Tuesday, September 30, 2003

A genuine White House scandal. It's taken more than two months, but the mainstream media are finally in full battle cry over the matter of who leaked the name of former ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife to the media -- including, most prominently, syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA operative or analyst; precisely which is apparently a matter of some dispute. Wilson contends that the White House deliberately blew her cover as retaliation for an op-ed piece he wrote for the New York Times debunking the Niger yellowcake claims.

Wilson points the finger squarely at George W. Bush's political guru, and has been quoted as saying:

I don't think we're going to let this drop. At the end of the day it's of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me when I use that name. I measure my words.

Here is Sunday's Washington Post story, which did much to move this nauseating scandal into public view. Here is today's New York Times follow-up. And Josh Marshall has more on this than you have time to read -- but scroll down and read his thoughts on the damage that may have been done to Plame's work on weapons of mass destruction.

Slate's Jack Shafer offers some smart (if overly cavalier) background and context.

And Rush Limbaugh is desperate.

Another scandal, all but forgotten. The Boston Globe today runs an op-ed by Clinton-administration official Jeffrey Connaughton on the Bush White House's decision to let some 140 Saudi nationals -- "including two-dozen relatives of Osama bin Laden" -- flee the US immediately after 9/11.

Connaughton's column prompts me to dig up a piece that former Massport executive director Virginia Buckingham wrote for the Boston Globe Magazine last September.

Buckingham -- now the deputy editorial-page editor of the Boston Herald -- wrote about how stunned she and other officials were over the quick getaway at Logan International Airport:

The next night, we experienced another surreal moment: the bin Laden family airlift. My staff was told that a private jet was arriving at Logan from Saudi Arabia to pick up 14 members of Osama bin Laden's family living in the Boston area. "Does the FBI know?" staffers wondered. "Does the State Department know? Why are they letting these people go? Have they questioned them?" This was ridiculous. But our power to stop their arrival or departure was limited. Under federal law, an airport operator is not allowed to restrict the movement of an individual flight or a class of aircraft without going through a byzantine regulatory process that had, to date, never succeeded. So bravado would have to do in the place of true authority. [Massport aviation director Thomas] Kinton said: "Tell the tower that plane is not coming in here until somebody in Washington tells us it's OK." He then repeatedly called the FBI and the State Department throughout the night. Each time the answer was the same: "Let them leave." On September 19, under the cover of darkness, they did.

Bad company. Boston Herald sportswriter Ed Gray today comes out as a gay man. He writes:

I'm out because I no longer, in good conscience, choose to ignore the unabashed homophobia that is so cavalierly tolerated within the world of sports. I'm out, because the silence of a closeted gay man only serves to give his implicit approval to bigotry. I'm out, because I refuse to continue hiding from the truth that an openly gay man has as much right as a straight man to play sports or report on them.

Unfortunately, Gray comes out right next to columnist Gerry Callahan (they're side by side both in print and on the Herald website), whose WEEI Radio (AM 850) morning show, Dennis & Callahan, specializes in homophobic "humor."

Monday, September 29, 2003

A critique of pure blogging. I have not been following the Daniel Weintraub saga all that closely, so I appreciated today's New York Times piece on the matter.

Weintraub writes a weblog for the Sacramento Bee. A couple of weeks ago, the Bee announced that Weintraub would be required to submit new posts to his editors before uploading them to his blog, "California Insider." The policy change may or may not be related to the fact that he'd written a post a few overly touchy supporters of Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante may have found racially insensitive. (Oddly enough, the Times article, by Michael Falcone, makes no mention of this angle.)

With the boilerplate out of the way, my question is this: What's the big deal? Some bloggers, particularly Slate's Mickey Kaus, are outraged, but Weintraub himself seems okay with it. Moreover, it strikes me that to the extent there's any controversy, it has to do with the overwrought sense of importance that some bloggers have about themselves and what they're doing.

As best as I can define it, the only pure blog is one that is written independently of any media organization. Folks like Josh Marshall, Bob Somerby, Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Reynolds are out there on their own, and God bless them for it.

Those of us who are blogging for our employers are engaged in something different -- essentially, writing something that looks like a blog, reads like a blog, and in many respects is a blog, but that may be more akin to an online column, subject to certain constraints. That's true of Media Log, as well as such fine blogs as Altercation (MSNBC.com), Joe Conason's Journal (Salon), and, yes, Kausfiles, whose author gave up his independence in return for Microsoft's filthy lucre. (Hey, Mickey: Good for you!)

Neither fish nor fowl: Danny Schechter, who writes his indispensable "Dissector's Web Log" for Mediachannel.org, but who is also the boss.

Now, what the Bee's critics seem not to want to acknowledge is that if you're blogging for someone else, you're getting edited somewhere down the line. Here's how it works at Media Log Central: I upload my posts myself, without the intervention of any editor. But my editors and I talk about what works, what doesn't work, and what I might do differently the next time. And were I to write something that never should have seen the light of day, guess what? It will come down.

That's the way it should be. The extra value that a news organization can offer is, after all, editing -- the collective judgment of experienced people, and not just the sensibility of one person.

Blogging for a news organization doesn't have to be a contradiction in terms. Unless you think the words freewheeling and responsible don't belong in the same sentence.

Hannity & Colmes, explained. The most accurate description I have ever read of the Fox News Channel's dreadful Hannity & Colmes program appears in the current New York Press (scroll way, way down, to "Best Rigged Talk Show").

Here's the clincher:

The dynamic and charismatic ultra-conservative [Sean] Hannity squares off nightly against the weak, conciliatory and center-left [Alan] Colmes, who is just about the least effective spokesman for the liberal cause imaginable. If that weren't enough, rightie-tightass fuckhead Dennis Miller was recently added to the show as a weekly commentator.

Be warned: fuckhead is mild compared to some of the other language used to describe this miserable show.

John Carroll, blogger. His "Campaign Journal" is back.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Another bite of the Apple. Media Log is all blogged out after yesterday's two-hour Democratic extravaganza. Be sure to see my Phoenix colleague Adam Reilly's take on the proceedings. Click here.

LS sent a fascinating e-mail responding to yesterday's item on the slow-motion breakdown of the Apple-Microsoft alliance. He writes:

Just read your media log entry about Apple and wanted to comment on a couple things:

First, it's my view (as an IT manager myself), that the IRM technology is going to be a very slow starter, if it gets off the ground at all. Why? Because not only will it break compatibility with Mac Office, but it will also break compatibility with older versions of Office for Windows. At several hundred dollars per desktop, many companies are going to put-off upgrading to Office 2003 as long as possible.... IRM won't be useful until a majority of users have a version of Office capable of dealing with IRM-encoded files. The free viewer MS is offering will only be useful for viewing those files, not creating them, thus creating a one-way communication. Might as well send a fax…

Also, MS is working on another version of Office for Mac OS X. I think that if they are serious about IRM taking-off, MS will have to add it to the Mac version as well. I doubt that MS expects people to dump their Macs just so they can use IRM.

Second, at the same time MS announced they weren't going to develop IE for Mac anymore, they also announced that they were ceasing production on a standalone IE for Windows. Basically they are embedding IE even deeper into the Windows OS. Apple has similar plans for Safari, embedding the core technologies into OS X so that any application can be programmed to take advantage of the Safari rendering engine. The one difference between MS and Apple, is that Apple is building all their core tech around open standards, vs. Microsoft which keeps inventing their own closed systems.

Apple is as strong as it's been in a long time, with an amazing line-up of products and a killer OS. As we start to exit the recession, I think Apple is poised to grow significantly.

I hope LS is right.

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Democrats visualize whirled peas. Shortly before today's Democratic presidential debate began in earnest, moderator Brian Williams explained the rather convoluted rules, an exercise that he described as the "eat-your-peas portion of the debate."

I'm tempted to observe that the entire two hours felt like pea-eating. But as General Wesley Clark's 1972 presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, once observed, that would be wrong!

With that, here are some random observations about the first debate to feature Clark, who's been anointed the instant co-frontrunner (along with Howard Dean) even though -- or, rather, because -- he's been in the race for only a little more than a week.

-- The format, featuring 60- and 30-second responses and lots of beeping timers, stunk, but it was probably unavoidable with 10 candidates to juggle.

It also hurt John Kerry more than anyone. Whether you think Kerry is thoughtful or evasive, the fact is that he answers questions in a ponderous, lugubrious style. He needs time to ease into a response. He got off a few decent shots at Dean -- especially over Dean's plan to repeal the entire Bush tax cut, which Kerry charges would hurt the middle class -- but, essentially, Kerry came off as a 40 mph candidate who'd accidentally meandered into the passing lane.

-- Clark's debut was anticlimactic. His answers were mild, tepid even, and never really veered from the surface of conventional Democratic thought. When Williams asked him whether if he would support President Bush's request for $87 billion in military and reconstruction funding in Iraq, he replied, "Brian, if I've learned one thing from my nine days in politics, you have to be careful with hypotheticals, and you just asked me one." It was a good line, it got a laugh, but it really wasn't a hypothetical.

Clark also failed to exploit his military background beyond a little rhetorical throat-clearing. In response to a question about Social Security, he made some sort of reference to having appreciated the program "when I was in the United States Army and trying to save $100 a month." It didn't make a lot of sense, but perhaps it worked on some subliminal level.

-- A simmering subplot was to get Howard Dean to blow his cool -- that is, if the perpetually seething candidate can be said to have a cool. The former Vermont governor showed a few flashes of anger (or "little flashes of disagreement," as he put it when prodded by Williams), but for the most part he held himself together -- even when accused by Dick Gephardt of having sided with Newt Gingrich on a massive Medicare cut in the mid 1990s. "You say you represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," Gephardt chided him. "I think you're just winging it."

"That is flat-out false, and I am ashamed that you would compare me to Newt Gingrich," Dean responded. But, rather than escalate, he pulled himself together and said, "We have to remember that the enemy here is George Bush, not each other."

Even so, Dean's retort gave an opening to Kerry, who observed -- correctly -- that Gephardt had not compared Dean to Gingrich, but had merely noted that Dean had supported Gingrich on a particularly odious proposal. "That's a policy difference," Kerry said.

Thus Dean proved he could handle being attacked without going ballistic, but still came off as something of a whiner.

-- John Edwards wants to be Bill Clinton, but he lacks Clinton's easy grace in front of the camera. When Edwards panders, everyone can see that he's pandering, which is why he'll never capture the Clinton magic.

For instance, he was asked if he would continue to support government subsidies to American farmers if it meant that it would worsen Third World poverty. Oh, yes he would! "We have to stand by our farmers," he replied. But then quickly added that he opposed subsidies to "millionaire farmers." Thanks for the clarification, Senator.

-- Joe Lieberman is as well-known as any of these candidates, but he seems unlikely to break through. He's just too conservative for a party whose liberal wing dominates in the primary season.

Lieberman defined his own problem at the end, when the candidates were asked to identify the most unpopular thing they would do as president. Lieberman responded that this was the first presidential debate he's participated in that he hasn't been booed.

-- Dennis Kucinich was passionate, Al Sharpton was funny, Carol Moseley Braun was thoughtful, and Bob Graham was avuncular. But none did anything to increase their chances of being taken seriously -- especially by the media, which are itching to knock this down to a three- or (at the most) four-candidate scrum ASAP.

But see for yourself. The rebroadcast on MSNBC starts in about 15 minutes.

Watch this space. I'll be writing instant analysis of today's Democratic presidential debate (CNBC, 4 p.m.) on Media Log this evening. My plan is to post before the 9 p.m. rebroadcast on MSNBC. I'll try not to give away the ending.

Also, the Phoenix's Adam Reilly will offer his take on the debate tomorrow at BostonPhoenix.com.

Microsoft leaves Apple out in the cold. Apple Computer has been counted out time after time over the years, and it's still here, if not exactly kicking ass. Still, a review of the new Microsoft Office for Windows in today's New York Times raises some serious questions about Apple's future.

According to David Pogue, Office 2003 incorporates some features that corporate managers will love. These features -- known collectively as "information-rights management" -- allow users to decide who will be able to open which documents, what changes they can make, and the like.

But in a parenthetical near the end, Pogue notes, "IRM breaks some of the convenient Windows-Macintosh file compatibility that's existed for years -- and it requires Internet Explorer as your browser."

Well, now. Apple's comeback, starting with Steve Jobs's return in the late 1990s, rests on three pillars: producing the coolest machines; unveiling a shimmering operating system, OS X, that makes it easier to play with photos, music, and video; and assuring users that they'll be able to survive in a Microsoft world. Microsoft even invested money in Apple.

But that's starting to come apart. Earlier this year, Microsoft responded to Apple's decision to release its own Web browser, Safari, by halting development of future versions of Internet Explorer for the Mac. Apple also released presentation software known as Keynote to compete with Microsoft's PowerPoint. And now we're starting to see divergence in the rest of Office, the most crucial product of all.

I own a few shares of Microsoft, but I use a Mac. This is bad news. Apple's enjoyed some very good years thanks to its strategic alliance with Microsoft. Can't Bill Gates and Steve Jobs sit down and talk this over?

New in this week's Phoenix. I take a look at the future of online file-sharing, part of a special Phoenix package on "Downloading Now: Music in the Post-Napster Age."

WBZ Radio talk-show host David Brudnoy talks about his battle with cancer.

And employees at the Boston Herald and its sister Community Newspaper chain brace themselves against rumors of deep budget cuts.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Eye, eye, Principal Skinner! The New York Times runs a horrifying story inside today on Biloxi, Mississippi, where digital cameras record every move made by students and teachers.

Sam Dillon reports that in-school surveillance is becoming increasingly widespread, but that it is rarely used as extensively as it is in Biloxi, which can afford it because it is flush with casino revenues.

Dillon's account is rife with outrages. Yet, somehow, I found the most chilling comment was from Allison Buchanan, a PTA president at one of Biloxi's elementary schools, who thinks the spycams are a great idea.

"In my two years on the PTA, I've not heard one parent say anything bad about the cameras," she says.

Oppression usually comes with the willing consent of the oppressed.

A literary lion roars. Harold Bloom may be an elitist blowhard, but that shouldn't stop you from reading his hugely entertaining rant in today's Boston Globe against Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, and a bunch of poets you've probably never heard of.

The unreported truth. Globe columnist Steve Bailey has the goods on state treasurer Tim Cahill, and proves himself to be an astute media critic as well.

Noting that Cahill's abysmal record as Norfolk County treasurer was there for the reporting during last year's campaign, Bailey writes, "Like the rest of the media pack, I was focused on the sexier governor's race. Cahill got a pass, and was elected on the strength of a cute TV ad featuring his 10-year-old daughter."

Brudnoy's latest challenge. Sad news today about talk-radio legend David Brudnoy, who's battled AIDS since the 1980s and who announced yesterday that he has an aggressive form of skin cancer (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here).

I had a chance to interview Brudnoy yesterday afternoon; that interview will appear in tomorrow's Phoenix. "I'm kind of the poster child for defying the odds," he told me. Here's hoping that David can defy the odds one more time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Like a (really annoying) virgin. What are we to make of an adult male who refers to himself as "Virgin Boy"? And what are we to make of a TV station -- WFXT-TV (Channel 25) -- that hires him as a commentator on its brand-new morning news broadcast?

"Virgin Boy" is Doug Goudie, the former Howie Carr sidekick best known for playing crude sound effects whenever the subject of -- tee, hee! -- homosexuality came up. (Goudie claims it was a tape of former Boston city councilor David Scondras clearing his throat at a news conference. Perhaps it was, but it definitely offends on more than one level.)

In his new incarnation, Goudie goes simply by "VB," so perhaps he's slowly trying to carve out a new image for himself. Then again, judging by yesterday's debut, perhaps not.

Some years back, someone once told me that he regularly ran into Goudie in the gym and that, away from the microphone, he's a pretty nice guy. I bring this up only to note that Goudie does not appear to have seen the inside of a gym in quite some time.

And I bring that up only because Goudie demonstrated a weird proclivity for fat jokes yesterday. At one point, as a clip played of Ted Kennedy holding up what appeared to be two military helmets, Goudie "joked" that Kennedy was trying out a new bra.

Later, his reaction to Stevie Nicks's lament about Madonna and Britney Spears's kiss was to observe that Nicks, now 55, is, well, fat. How insightful!

Goudie also treated us to some sex jokes about Ronald Reagan, whom he insisted on calling "Dutch" -- a tone-deaf touch of familiarity that co-anchor Jodi Applegate made fun of. So how did Goudie react? By referring to Sylvester Stallone as "Sly," of course.

It called to mind nothing so much as Bill Murray's cringe-inducing turns at the anchor desk on Saturday Night Live in the mid '70s -- the difference being that you were supposed to cringe at Murray.

Neither Applegate nor co-anchor Gene Lavanchy seemed to know quite what to make of their sidekick. Applegate kept scrunching her face up, while Lavanchy opted for detachment.

Herald TV critic Monica Collins writes today, "Goudie has some roguish appeal but needs to be smarter and sharper about targets."

Unless Goudie gets much better real fast, that is likely to be the kindest thing anyone says about him.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Maybe Hillary really will run for president. Until now, I had thought this was ridiculous. I guess I still do. But the talk among conservatives that Wesley Clark is paving the way for a Hillary Clinton presidential run is starting to seep into the mainstream.

In a Time-magazine piece on Clark's decision to jump into the race, Karen Tumulty writes:

It appears that Hillary's husband knows which Democrat he wants to emerge: the junior Senator from New York. Two sources close to the Clintons have told TIME that the former President has been urging his wife in private to reconsider her pledge not to run for President in 2004 and pondering the most feasible way for her to back out of it.

Tumulty's Time-mate Joe Klein notes that, until last week, Clinton had been running e-mail on her website from fans urging her to run -- although Klein, who knows his Clintons, discounts the importance of that, calling it "self-promotional cotton candy."

On the other hand, New York Times columnist William Safire definitely thinks Hillary Clinton is up to something.

I think we have to assume that Clinton means it when she says she won't run in 2004 -- although if she's serious about running for president someday, she's got to be wondering about what it means for her if a Democrat beats George W. Bush next year. (Here's what it means: no chance to run until 2012, if ever.)

Still, the notion of a Clinton candidacy -- or, for that matter, an Al Gore comeback -- is predictated on the idea that none of the Democrats now running can win.

That may be true. But in 1992, Democrats were filled with despair when then-New York governor Mario Cuomo declined to run, leaving the field to a bunch of second-tier nobodies such as Paul Tsongas, Jerry Brown, and that Bill Clinton guy, best-known for talking too long at the 1988 Democratic convention.

The Romney rope line. The Globe and the Herald today go with this extremely entertaining AP story about security in front of Governor Mitt Romney's New Hampshire lakefront vacation spot.

Here is the New Hampshire Sunday News story upon which the AP dispatch is based. Great photo of the security line in front of the Romney residence.

I suppose these days any high-ranking public official is a potential target. But I wouldn't want to be one of Romney's roped-off neighbors.

Friday, September 19, 2003

Big Brother's contemptible sneer. John Ashcroft is a pathetic bully. Yesterday he denounced the "hysteria" of those who criticize Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which allows federal agents to examine library and bookstore records (among other things) without a grand-jury warrant and without probable cause.

(The Patriot Act, and especially Section 215, is the subject of a piece I wrote for this week's Phoenix.)

Ashcroft wants us to believe that Section 215 is nothing to worry about because it hasn't actually been used. But if he had no intention of using it, why did the White House stick it in there in the first place? Besides, one of the prime uses of a repressive law such as the Patriot Act is not to spy on people directly, but to create an aura of suspicion -- to make you wonder whether you're being watched, whether your reading habits are of interest to the government.

And it's not as though the government never actually snoops on people's reading lists.

A few years ago, Monica Lewinsky's interest in the phone-sex novel Vox became the subject of a subpoena by Clinton persecutor Ken Starr.

The Tattered Cover, a well-known independent bookstore in Denver, barely beat back attempts by a local prosecutor to turn over purchase records related to a drug case.

Here's part of a statement issued by the American Library Association earlier this week:

Attorney General John Ashcroft says the FBI has no interest in Americans' reading records. While this may be true, librarians have a history with law enforcement dating back to the McCarthy era that gives us pause. For decades, and as late as the 1980s, the FBI's Library Awareness Program sought information on the reading habits of people from "hostile foreign countries," as well as U.S. citizens who held unpopular political views.

The fears of librarians and bookstore owners are well-founded. John Ashcroft's making fun of them only deepens those fears.

Johnny Cash overview. Ted Drozdowski has a fine look back at Johnny Cash's career in this week's Phoenix.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Follow-up: Nike folds on free-speech case. I think I'll move to California and sue Nike. Why not? It worked for Marc Kasky.

Last Friday, lawyers for Kasky -- a San Francisco-based antiglobalization activist -- and Nike announced a settlement to Kasky's five-year-old suit, in which the sneaker-making giant had been accused of making "false and misleading" statements about its labor practices in the Third World (see "Don't Quote Me," News and Features, May 2).

Nike will give $1.5 million to the Fair Labor Association, which will use the money to monitor workplace conditions around the world. That's good.

What's bad is that Nike turned its back on the First Amendment, just as it has been charged with turning its back on its impoverished foreign workers.

Kasky, taking advantage of a California law that allows any resident to act as an attorney general, had accused Nike of what amounted to false advertising by claiming in press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, and on its Web site that its offshore factories were veritable workers' paradises. Kasky was able to file suit because Nike, though based in Oregon, does business in California (and everywhere else).

Nike, in its defense, had contended that those statements amounted to political, not commercial, speech, and were thus constitutionally protected.

The California Supreme Court sided with Kasky, and ruled that a lower court could conduct a trial on Kasky's suit. Nike appealed to the US Supreme Court. But after agreeing to hear the case, the Court declined to issue a ruling last June, apparently on the grounds that the case was not yet far enough along. Friday's settlement prevents the suit from ever going to trial.

What's got me ready to call an enterprising lawyer is a quote from one of Nike's lawyers, a guy named Walter Dellinger, that appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Saturday: "As much as Nike cared about First Amendment issues, we realized there was no way to get the First Amendment issue back to the US Supreme Court unless Nike were to lose at trial and all the way up the ladder, which is not a very attractive or likely prospect."

Okay, here's my case: Nike is making statements about how much it cares about the First Amendment in order to persuade me that it's a warm, fuzzy company from which I should buy running shoes. Dellinger's quote, therefore, amounts to commercial speech -- and it's "false and misleading," since Nike wouldn't have settled if it really cared about freedom of speech. See you in court!

If you think that sounds ridiculous, you're right. Yet it is exactly what Kasky argued in terms of Nike's statements about its treatment of Third World workers. And now the precedent established by the California Supreme Court stands -- at least in California. But since companies will act in such a way so as to avoid getting sued in California, the effect will be felt nationwide.

This case was a mess from the beginning. The problem was the gag reflex that kicks in at the notion of giant corporations' being allowed to lie about how they treat workers at their overseas subsidiaries. Of course, Nike never said it had lied, but its defense amounted to asserting a right to lie -- which is, in fact, protected by the First Amendment as long as the lie doesn't stray into libel.

The ACLU and a raft of media companies lined up on Nike's side. On Kasky's were groups such as ReclaimDemocracy.org, the Sierra Club, and the Boston-based National Voting Rights Institute, which argued in an amicus brief that corporations, as artificial entities subject to government regulation, should not enjoy the same constitutional protections as a person.

Think Nike's surrender won't have an effect? Think again. According to an account in Saturday's New York Times, Nike has already stopped making public its annual "corporate responsibility report," and is planning to put some limits on its public statements as well. After all, it wouldn't do to have a bunch of lawsuit-happy Californians poking around Nike's Web site and arguing over the definition of "misleading."

But as the ACLU likes to say, "The best way to counter obnoxious speech is with more speech." Let Nike have its say, then scrutinize its statements and publicize the results.

Except that you can't do it that way. Not anymore.

Get me a lawyer!

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Journalism, politics, and Shannon O'Brien. Back in July, when WLVI-TV (Channel 56) announced it had hired the 2002 Democratic candidate for governor, Shannon O'Brien, as a consumer reporter, observers agreed that O'Brien would have to take care not to be seen indulging her political passions.

"If her first crusade is against alleged consumer fraud by the Romney administration, then there might be some questions," UMass Amherst journalism professor Ralph Whitehead told the Globe on July 11.

So what was O'Brien thinking when she made a purely political speech before the Worcester Democratic City Committee last night?

According to this account (subscription required) in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, O'Brien whacked Mitt Romney, the man who defeated her in the gubernatorial campaign, saying of his fee hikes: "We see now what the truth is about not raising taxes. It comes a little late for me."

She also dumped on George W. Bush and praised John Kerry, urging Democrats to drive to New Hampshire and work on Kerry's presidential campaign.

As for her duties as a TV reporter, which begin in two weeks, O'Brien -- a former state treasurer -- told the crowd, "I'll speak up for people who have been ripped off by businesses and I'll make sure that government is doing the right thing by them."

O'Brien would be a lot more credible in that role if she'd refrain from making what T&G reporter Mark Melady described as "what at times sounded like a campaign stump speech."

Lies from a lying liar. It's a rare day indeed when the media call the White House on one of its mind-boggling lies. So it was refreshing to pick up this morning's Globe and find this front-page story by Anne Kornblut and Bryan Bender that takes Dick Cheney to task for his continued attempts to link Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.

At issue is Cheney's appearance on Meet the Press this past Sunday. Among other things, host Tim Russert let Cheney get away with this:

Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in '93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we've never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know.

It's true! We don't know. But we're pretty sure, aren't we? As the Globe notes, the Czech connection has been "widely discredited." Kornblut and Bender write:

A senior defense official with access to high-level intelligence reports expressed confusion yesterday over the vice president's decision to reair charges that have been dropped by almost everyone else. "There isn't any new intelligence that would precipitate anything like this," the official said, speaking on condition he not be named.

But the story goes on to note that "69 percent of Americans believe that Hussein probably had a part in attacking the United States, according to a recent Washington Post poll."

Cheney knows a good thing when he sees it. And he's not going to give it up -- the truth be damned.

Duke! Duke! Duke! Globe columnist Joan Vennochi has some well-considered nice things to say about Michael Dukakis this morning.

Vennochi -- who is exercised over John Kerry's attempts to distance himself from Dukakis, under whom he served as lieutenant governor in the early '80s -- writes of the former governor, "He is a man of dignity and conviction. After all that he has gone through in politics, he remains idealistic and loyal."

I also suspect that if Dukakis had had this field to run against in 1988, he would have won the Democratic nomination for president even more easily than he did.

You want some Velveeta on that cracker? Salon has an interview with one of my favorite conservatives, Tucker Carlson, ex of the Weekly Standard and now with CNN.

You've got to be a subscriber to read the whole thing, but here is Carlson on what's wrong with the talking-heads shows that have come to dominate cable news:

Well, what I think the problem is in general and, not just with Fox, but the genre, is that it encourages you to use a straw man. So for example you see hosts bring on, "This is Jeffrey Mohammed X, and he's the president of the Association to Kill White Motherfuckers," and he'll be presented as a spokesman for black America. And then the host will say, "Well, how can you support lynching white people? That's just wrong!"

Well, of course, it's wrong! This guy doesn't represent anybody! The classic flipside, which I've seen much more, is that you get some 62-year-old, semi-retarded cracker whose [sic] like the lone member of his chapter of the KKK, and he represents white supremacists. How many white supremacists are there in America? There are about nine, and they're all mentally retarded.

Carlson has succeeded in defining everything that's wrong with The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity & Colmes in two paragraphs. For that, I can almost forgive him for The Spin Room.

Salon is also running excerpts from Carlson's book, Politicians, Partisans and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News.

Monday, September 15, 2003

John Burns's disturbing whodunit. The New York Times' John Burns, whose courageous reporting and darkly lyrical dispatches while Baghdad was under siege comprised some of the best journalism of the war in Iraq, has some astounding things to say on the Editor & Publisher website.

The piece -- excerpted from an oral history -- demands to be read in full. But here is what is sure to be the most controversial paragraph:

In one case, a correspondent actually went to the Internet Center at the Al-Rashid Hotel and printed out copies of his and other people's stories -- mine included -- specifically in order to be able to show the difference between himself and the others. He wanted to show what a good boy he was compared to this enemy of the state. He was with a major American newspaper.

The whole business is going to be buzzing over whom Burns is referring to. Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds calls this and other Burns tales of pro-Saddam lackeydom as "journalism's Nuremberg." Andrew Sullivan describes Burns's revelations as evidence of how "compromised and corrupt" much of the reportage out of Iraq was, and I won't disagree.

Burns calls to mind nothing so much as the admission by CNN's Eason Jordan earlier this year that his operation engaged in years of shameful toadying to Saddam Hussein's regime in order to maintain access.

Whether you're prowar, as Burns seems to be, or antiwar, as Media Log is, you don't want to be forced to depend on media that cover up evil in the course of doing what they think are their jobs. Their jobs are to tell the truth. Period. If they get kicked out of the country, so be it.

Burns's revelations are sickening, and they only increase my admiration for the bravery he showed while stationed in Baghdad.

They should also lead to a lot more than a one-day story.

More on the Man in Black. Jimmy Guterman's tribute to Johnny Cash in today's Globe is one of the better ones that I saw over the weekend. He writes:

Cash transcended limits cultural and political, not just music. Cash wrote a novel based on the Gospel of Paul and shared racy jokes with death-row prisoners; Cash had both Bob Dylan's and Richard Nixon's home phone numbers. His ability to get on the same level with different groups seemed infinite.

CNN last night rebroadcast Larry's King's last interview with Cash, from last November, to mark the release of his final album, American IV: The Man Comes Around. Larry is his usual disconnected self. After reading an intro about Cash's new album, he engages his guest about his health problems, then asks:

KING: Can you sing?

CASH: Well, as well as I ever could I guess.

Earth to Larry: how do you suppose he made the album?

A better choice would be Terry Gross's interview on Fresh Air, which was rebroadcast on Friday, the day that Cash died. Not only is Gross a considerably more perceptive and sympathetic interviewer than King, but the show was taped in 1997, when Cash was in better health. I caught the last 15 minutes, and look forward to hearing the whole thing.

Finally, you can watch the entire video of Cash's "Hurt" by clicking here.

Legal limits. I love the Apple Music Store, but until this weekend I had only bought a few individual songs here and there. On Saturday, I bought Johnny Cash's American IV: The Man Comes Around. It was simple and painless, but far from perfect.

Mainly it comes down to a matter of value for price. I paid $9.99, which isn't bad. But by the time I had burned it to a CD and stuck it in a jewel case, I was up to $11. Amazon.com today advertises American IV for $13.49. So what did I give up?

  • Art. The songs downloaded as though I had purchased them individually, with none of the packaging that I would have gotten if I'd bought the actual CD. I've seen bootlegs on the Internet where you get a chance to download art, cut it out, and stick it in the jewel case just as though you'd bought it in a store. Yet all Apple gives you is a low-res image of the cover that shows up in iTunes.
  • Credits. At the moment, the Apple Music Store is a Mac-only phenomenon, and the only way you can access your music (before transferring it to a CD or an iPod) is through iTunes. Yet Apple doesn't even take advantage of iTunes' database capabilities by filling in songwriting and production credits. Maybe 12-year-olds don't care, but 47-year-olds do.
  • Sound quality. Okay, my ears can't tell the difference, but the AAC format that Apple uses, though supposedly better than MP3, is still compressed, and thus doesn't carry as much musical information as a regular CD.

Innovative though the Apple Music Store is, when it comes to buying a full album, you're paying almost as much as you would in a store -- and giving up quite a bit.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Johnny Cash, 1932-2003. The greatest country musician ever has died. MSNBC.com has the AP story plus a piece from the Today show that's well worth watching. It includes clips from his last video, "Hurt."

You probably won't be able to get into JohnnyCash.com for a while, but here's something called "Steve's Johnny Cash Home Page" that looks pretty cool. I would also keep an eye on BobDylan.com in the next few weeks -- Zimmy's likely to perform a Cash standard or two in concert that will pop up in the "Performances" section.

Cash was 71, and had been in poor health for some time. His wife, June Carter Cash, died earlier this year.

Johnny and June ... RIP.

Electronic Nation. The Nation joins the other political weeklies -- the New Republic and the Weekly Standard -- in making all of its content available online to subscribers.

Unlike its ideological competitors, the Nation does not appear to offer the option of downloading the entire issue as a PDF file. In other words, you can't take your laptop to the bathroom unless you've got WiFi. I also don't see an option to buy an online-only subscription, as you can with TNR and the Standard, but maybe I haven't looked closely enough.

The new cover story (subscribers only), by John Nichols, befits the Nation's political stance. At a moment when most pundits are asking if Howard Dean is too liberal to defeat George W. Bush, the Nation asks instead whether he's far enough to the left to warrant progressives' supporting him over Dennis Kucinich. Writes Nichols:

It is Kucinich who has fought the hard fights against the Bush Administration in Congress -- frequently going against the party leadership in exactly the manner Dean backers say Democrats should. As co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, Kucinich has led challenges to the Bush Administration not just on the war but on nuclear disarmament, military spending and the Patriot Act. Even now, while Dean supports keeping US troops in Iraq, Kucinich calls for bringing them home. While Dean says he represents Paul Wellstone's "democratic wing of the Democratic Party," there are few issues on which Kucinich cannot claim to be a truer heir to Wellstone's progressive populist mantle.

Well, okay. Of course, this doesn't answer the question, "So just how badly do you want to lose, anyway?"

Not that Nichols is any sort of advocate for Kucinich. His bottom line, sensibly, is that it is Dean who has energized the Democratic base, and though he might not represent the fulfillment of every left-wing dream, he is a man of progressive, populist instincts who continues to grow.

Whatever happened to Craig Unger? The former Boston magazine editor answers that question with a major piece in the new Vanity Fair on the unseemly favors that the Bush White House did for the bin Laden family (and other well-connected Saudis) to help get them out of the US in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

The article isn't online, but according to National Journal media columnist William Powers, Unger "breathes new life into an old story," and "dramatically raise[s] the temperature around this touchy issue, with enough suggestive material to make any reasonably curious soul want to know more."

Thursday, September 11, 2003

A cynical way to honor the dead. Leave it to George W. Bush to mark the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks by seeking to take away more of our liberties. In a speech yesterday, Bush read off a few items from his Patriot Act II wish list -- shelved earlier this year because of bipartisan outrage.

His desire for an expanded death penalty is depressing but unsurprising. Withholding bail from terrorism suspects may actually not be a bad idea, although this Washington Post story warns that it could be abused to hold entirely non-violent suspects.

The big enchilada, though, would allow federal authorities to issue subpoenas without having to go to the bother of explaining themselves to judges or grand juries.

The New York Times quotes Bush making a characteristically ridiculous analogy, noting that such administrative subpoenas are used to investigate health-care fraud: "If we can use these subpoenas to catch crooked doctors, the Congress should allow law enforcement officials to use them in catching terrorists."

What he fails to mention is that the stakes are considerably higher for a terrorism suspect than for a doctor who's been goosing up his invoices to Medicare. Dr. Feelgood faces a fine, at worst; the terrorism suspect faces the death penalty.

What is it about Bush and judges anyway? You'd think he'd like them -- after all, five of them made him president. Yet he continually seeks to cut the judiciary out of any meaningful oversight role in his crusade against terrorism.

New in this week's Phoenix. Speaking of the Patriot Act, the Phoenix's Camille Dodero and I took in Attorney General John Ashcroft's protest-spiced appearance at Faneuil Hall on Tuesday. Click here for Dodero's story, and here for mine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003

True compassion. The Globe's Kevin Cullen comes up with the best explanation for why Archbishop Seán O'Malley was able to wrap up settlement talks so quickly with the victims of pedophile priests. He writes:

Also noticed by victims was O'Malley's response to the family of Gregory Ford, a 25-year-old Newton man who says he was raped by a priest almost 20 years ago.

When Ford, who said the Rev. Paul R. Shanley abused him, suffered an emotional breakdown a week after Geoghan was killed, O'Malley immediately agreed to pay for specialized residential treatment for Ford. O'Malley had met privately with Ford's parents, Rodney and Paula Ford, and pledged to do whatever he could to help their troubled son.

Last year, [Cardinal Bernard] Law's lawyer had sent a legal response to the Fords' lawsuit against the archdiocese, suggesting the parents were negligent in allowing their son to be abused.

Rodney and Paula Ford, who had done so much to point out the failings of Cardinal Law, were now vouching for his successor, an endorsement that carried enormous weight inside the tight-knit milieu of alleged victims and their lawyers.

There will be hard times ahead for O'Malley, especially when he attempts -- as he inevitably will -- to assert the Catholic Church's conservative cultural agenda on issues such as gay and lesbian rights and reproductive choice.

But his genuine compassion has already won him more good will than Law was able to garner for himself in nearly two decades. Even a non-Christian like me thinks we're lucky to have him.

Copywrong. Here's something to consider as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) goes about trying to sue its best potential customers into penury for sharing downloaded music files: at least some of them might have no idea of what they're doing.

The Media Log household makes limited use of LimeWire, which is the Macintosh equivalent of the better-known KaZaA. My 12-year-old son, Tim, has used it to download such classics as the theme to one of the Mario video games as well as some Beavis and Butt-head sound clips.

I've grabbed a few rarities that -- to my knowledge -- are not available for legitimate sale at any price. (Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan dueting on "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," anyone?)

Yet recently, after reading a story about the lawsuits, I checked Tim's LimeWire settings -- and saw, to my horror, that the program had automatically set things up so that dozens of songs he had copied from legally purchased CDs to the iMac were available for other Limewire users to download.

I futzed with the settings and turned off file-sharing. Whew! But to think we could have been sued for something a piece of software had done without our knowledge was unsettling, to say the least.

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Hillary, Al, and W. Got back from John Ashcroft's Repressapalooza stop at Faneuil Hall a little while ago, and am just briefly checking in before getting down to the grim business of trying to figure out how critical I can be of the Patriot Act without risking deportation. (Pssst! I'm one-fourth French!)

But I had to share the latest from Dick Morris's wacky New York Post column today, which I picked up from Drudge. The highlights:

  • Hillary -- ever a Morris obsession -- wants Dean to win the Democratic nomination so that he'll be slaughtered by Bush and clear the path for her own presidential run in 2008.
  • Gore looks like he's getting ready to run -- and the polling shows a 2000-style photo finish between him and Bush, with a decent chance of Gore's winning.
  • Weirdly (this is Dick Morris), no mention of Wesley Clark, who -- if he catches a lucky break -- could dispatch Kerry, turn the Democratic contest into a Dean-Clark race, and then pose a significant threat to Bush in November. As Drudge also notes, the New York Times reports that Bill Clinton, at least, knows who Clark is.

The most entertaining part of Morris's column is his wretched conclusion:

Why is Bush falling so badly? The superficial reasons are the Iraq casualties, the failure to find WMDs and the continuing inability to round up Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. But the real reason is that terror is receding as an issue, largely due to Bush's success.

The solution for Bush is to put terrorism back on the front burner by high profile and aggressive action against Iran and/or North Korea. It's not necessary to wag the dog, but Bush should wag his tongue and raise the profile of these two remaining threats to our security.

That Bush! He's just doing too good a job to get elected. If only he'd scare us some more, everything would be fine.

Monday, September 08, 2003

The redcoats are coming! The redcoats are coming! Attorney General John Ashcroft will be speaking to an audience of mainly law-enforcement officials tomorrow at 9:20 a.m. in Faneuil Hall.

Once, patriots gathered inside Faneuil Hall to plot against oppression. Now, Ashcroft is coming to town to rally for the Patriot Act, the very definition of latter-day oppression.

A coalition of civil-liberties groups will protest outside the hall starting at 8 a.m. Here is the lead paragraph of an ACLU press release:

On Tuesday, September 9, beginning at 8 a.m., hundreds of people from across the Commonwealth will gather in Sam Adams plaza outside Boston's historic Faneuil Hall to voice their concerns about Attorney General John Ashcroft's assault on basic constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism. The rally will include a press conference at 8:30 a.m. near the Sam Adams Statue.

Here is an ACLU fact sheet on how the Patriot Act threatens your personal liberties.

You know what to do.

Fighting back against the media monopoly. The progressive advocacy group MoveOn.org is trying to get 100,000 signatures from people who oppose the FCC's decision last June to deregulate the media even more than it already had been (see "Don't Quote Me," June 6).

At stake: a proposal to allow the major broadcast networks to buy more local television stations, and to allow a single owner to control a newspaper, a television station, and a radio station in the same community.

MoveOn.org is looking for the signatures by this Wednesday so that it can present them at a news conference it is holding with two anti-deregulation senators, Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine and Democrat Byron Dorgan of North Dakota.

For more information, as well as instructions on how to sign the electronic petition, go to MoveOn.org's "Stop the FCC" page.

Ombudsman column is up. Christine Chindlund's column on "terrorist" and "militant" organizations has now been posted on the Globe website. Read it here.

A nuance worth noting [Good grief; I originally wrote "A nuance worth nothing" -- DK]: though the Globe itself is loath to label organizations as "terrorist," it "routinely points out the State Department designation of Palestinian groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as terrorist organizations."

Terrorists and militants. Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund today tries to explain why the paper refrains from identifying some organizations that engage in terrorist acts as, well, you know, terrorists.

I would love to link to it, but it has yet to be posted on the Globe's extremely fine new website. Too bad. Chinlund takes a thoughtful approach that defies easy lampooning -- much as it may seem absurd not to label Hamas, for instance, a terrorist organization.

Her main point is that the Globe will label terrorist acts as terrorist acts, but it will, in most cases, not identify the groups that condone, plan, and carry out those acts as terrorist organizations. She writes: "One person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter; it's not for journalists to judge."

And she quotes Globe editor Martin Baron as saying, "The overall approach here is to describe events and present facts rather than to attack labels to individuals or groups. We particularly seek to avoid hot-button language that has become associated with a point of view ..."

Well, now. It strikes me (and the American Heritage Dictionary) that a terrorist is a person who carries out acts of terrorism. And what is terrorism? Let's turn to the dictionary again:

The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.

Chinlund notes that the Globe does not refer to Hamas as a terrorist organization, although she observes, "The wisdom of this approach is, understandably, the subject of renewed debate in the wake of the recent, horrible bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 21 people." And she closes by noting an exception: Al Qaeda. To refrain from labeling Al Qaeda as terrorist, she says, "ignores one of our most profound national experiences, 9/11."

At the risk of oversimplifying, it seems that, by this reasoning, a group that attacks us is terrorist, but a group that attacks someone else -- like Israel -- is merely "militant."

Chinlund has done an admirable job of trying to explain the Globe's policy. But that doesn't mean it makes a lot of sense.

Don't worry about media concentration. The business is falling apart! So says David Kirkpatrick in today's New York Times.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Who's a freak? Gary Coleman is a former child star who's fallen on hard times and is now trying to raise his profile by running for governor in the California recall election.

At 35, he doesn't come across as either unusually smart or breathtakingly dumb. (Although it's pretty amazing that he couldn't name the vice-president.) He has no more business running for governor of our largest state than most of the other 135 candidates. And, oh yeah, he's four-foot-eight.

So how does the New York Times' Charlie LeDuff describe him this morning? As "a captive of a freakish body." Right in the lead paragraph.

Gary Coleman is a normal person whose dwarfism is caused by a serious kidney disease. For a Times reporter to call him a "freak" is offensive. No human being should be described as a freak because of his physical attributes. What was LeDuff thinking?

Friday, September 05, 2003

Rewriting history -- just in time for the campaign. News Dissector Danny Schechter has written a must-read exposé on Mediachannel.org about the making of DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, a docudrama about the Bush administration's response to the terrorist attacks that will debut this Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime.

This is a media scandal of the first order, and Schechter connects all the dots. Showtime is part of the Viacom media empire, headed by Sumner Redstone and Mel Karmazin, media executives who have repeatedly and actively sought favors from the federal government in the form of deregulation by the FCC. Bush's political mastermind, Karl Rove, was personally involved in getting DC 9/11 up and going, and the film was put together by Lionel Chetwynd, who has "a long history of serving Republican causes."

As Schechter notes, this is the first occasion that a fictional movie about a living president has been made since John F. Kennedy's leadership of the PT-109 was lionized some 40 years ago.

So here we have a favor-seeking media conglomerate making a propaganda film of the Bush presidency just as his re-election campaign gets under way. The idea of using that footage from last spring aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln is getting a little dicey, given that we're losing two or three American soldiers every day.

What we'll get instead is a fictional treatment of 9/11 that is guaranteed to make Bush look a lot more heroic and decisive than the real Bush did two years ago.

Here is Schechter's depressing conclusion:

DC 911 illustrates the direction our propaganda system is taking because it is also the direction that our news system has already taken. More story telling instead of journalism. More character oriented drama. More narrative arcs. More blurring of the line between fiction and truth.

DC 911: Time of Crisis is also a sign of the crisis in our media system. Made by a "liberal company," it may help re-elect a conservative president. It is the latest tool in the media drift to the right, but it is not the last.

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Correction. Although Globe reporter Jeffrey Krasner had initially displayed his pro-union sign on his desk, it turns out that it didn't actually become visible to New England Cable News viewers until he moved it off his desk and into the background of the Globe's newsroom studio.

Globe reporter suspended for pro-union action. (Note: This item has been corrected.) Boston Globe business reporter Jeffrey Krasner has been suspended for a week without pay because he displayed a pro-union sign that showed up in the background of a broadcast by New England Cable News, a content partner with the Globe.

I report some of the details about this incident in the print edition of this week's Phoenix. The story is online here. However, the punishment was handed down after the Phoenix had gone to press. Other details have emerged since that story was written as well.

Sometime on Friday, August 22, Krasner -- who worked at the Boston Herald and the now-defunct New England edition of the Wall Street Journal before moving to the Globe a few years ago -- placed a sign he had made protesting bogged-down contract negotiations on a part of his desk that could be seen in the background of the newsroom television studio.

The sign -- which reportedly said OUR WORKPLACE, UNRAVELING DAILY (a spoof on the Globe's ad campaign, YOUR WORLD, UNFOLDING DAILY) -- was picked up in an NECN segment that was airing from the Globe newsroom.

Krasner declined to comment, as did editor Martin Baron when I reached him Wednesday morning, before Krasner's suspension had been announced. Globe spokesman BMaynard Scarborough, in a statement released after the suspension, said, "The Globe respects employees' right to express an opinion, or to show support for their union. There are many ways to show such support. In instances where an employee interferes with the content of the newspaper or with a partner organization's broadcast or operation, the Globe considers this to be impermissible conduct and subject to disciplinary action."

Scarborough told me that the company would not comment on what punishment Krasner had received. But Steve Richards, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents some 1200 Globe employees, confirmed the one-week suspension late Wednesday afternoon. In an earlier conversation, he described Krasner's actions as the logical outcome of a 32-month impasse over issues such as management proposals to subcontract non-editorial jobs and to eliminate seniority as a consideration in layoffs.

"I think the incident is indicative of the tension, anger, and frustration that is being experienced throughout the building," said Richards. "It's not the most pleasant atmosphere in the building right now, and I think this incident stemmed from that." In recent weeks, the Guild has resorted to such tactics as buying a billboard advertisement on the Southeast Expressway, outside the Globe plant, and picketing at Fenway Park.

Later on Wednesday, Richards denied that the Guild was behind an effort to keep Globe staff members off NECN's airwaves, even though staffers received a notice in their mailboxes on Tuesday afternoon that appeared to have the union seal of approval. The notice, titled "Stay Off NECN," read as follows, according to a source:

Because of Globe management's discipline of a colleague, members of the Globe staff are being asked NOT to appear on any New England Cable News programs for the next week (and possibly longer) effective Wednesday, Sept. 3. If you have any questions about this, please contact the Newspaper Guild ...

"That was issued not from this office, despite the appearance that it was," Richards told me, adding that he and other union officials were actually engaged in contract negotiations at the time that the notice popped up. He said he told the perpetrators, whom he did not identify, "Please don't do it in the future."

Like Krasner's sign-holding incident, Richards described the call for a boycott of NECN as a sign of just how tense contract talks have become. "Jeff is a great guy and everybody likes him," Richards said. "But this goes deeper than standing up for your friend."

The bystander in all this was NECN, whose airwaves ended up getting used as part of the Globe's contract battle.

Charles Kravetz, NECN's vice-president of news and station manager, said, "I've been assured by the folks at the Globe that they're handling this matter, and that there won't be any similar incidents in the future. And I'm very comfortable that they're dealing with this as an internal issue, and that they're handling it in a way that will be comfortable for us and for them."

Today's Herald also has an account of Krasner's suspension, reported by Greg Gatlin.

Stay of execution. A federal appeals court, bless the judges' hearts, has at least temporarily halted the FCC's attempt to deregulate corporate media. At least for now, one company will not be allowed to own a daily newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same city, and networks will not be allowed to gobble up even more local television stations.

Here is Lyle Denniston's story in today's Globe.

New in this week's Phoenix. John Ashcroft's holy war against pornography threatens everyone's free-speech rights.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The big get big-big-bigger. NBC is owned by the megacorporation General Electric. It's a business partner with Microsoft. It's a content partner with the Washington Post Company.

Obviously, the problem with NBC is that it's just not big enough.

Today the morning papers report that Vivendi Universal and General Electric are pursuing merger talks that would create -- as the Washington Post's Frank Ahrens reports -- "a media giant that would combine the top-rated NBC television network, Universal Pictures movie studio and several prominent cable channels."

The Wall Street Journal's coverage includes a chart, labeled "Fast Forward," that gives a good breakdown of who owns what, as well as what the combined company, NBC Universal, would look like.

My favorite, though, is a quickie update posted yesterday at the Motley Fool, the damn-the-bubble-full-speed-ahead website that hasn't been heard from much in the '00s. "Everybody has a chance to win here," enthuses the Fool. Well, everyone except those of us who are concerned about the effects of media concentration in a democratic society.

The most demented aspect of this merger-in-the-making is that, from NBC's and Vivendi's point of view, it's probably absolutely necessary, given the lead that behemoths such as AOL Time Warner and Disney/ABC have.

And so the demise of independent media continues. Someday, we'll all be working for Rupert Murdoch.

Public way, private gain. The Herald's Scott Van Voorhis reports today that the sweet deal granted to the Red Sox last year -- being allowed to shut down Yawkey Way, a public street, before and during home games -- is even sweeter than one might have imagined.

His lead: "The Red Sox pay only about $2,000 a game to use the city's Yawkey Way for concessions, yet game-day sales on the street generate an estimated $20,000 to $40,000 for the team and its concessions partner, Aramark Corp."

Little effect. I love Bob Ryan's column in today's Globe on Grady Little's decision to bench wayward slugger Manny Ramirez.

Ryan's money graf:

So now we know exactly what the Red Sox bought for their $160 million. Manny Ramirez is a gifted hitter of baseballs, of whom it can be said that he simply does not get "it," whatever that elusive "it" is. He has no business playing in Boston, New York, Chicago, or any locale in which the fans invest their time, money, and passion in the local baseball team. He is a frustrating and maddening figure, because, despite his recent actions (or nonactions), we all know deep in our heart of hearts that if there is one person in the employ of the Boston Red Sox who is capable of hitting a two-out, two-strike winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, it is Manny Ramirez, to whom, it is distinctly possible, said wallop would mean no more than if he hit a solo, seventh-inning home run against the Twins at City of Palms Park on March 15.

No doubt Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino would get rid of Ramirez tomorrow if they could find a team dumb enough to accept his salary.

Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.