Friday, April 30, 2004

WE LIVE IN A POLITICAL WORLD. Two good pieces at on the controversy over ABC's Nightline, on which Ted Koppel will read the names of American soldiers killed in Iraq tonight.

Danny Schechter, noting Koppel's credentials as an establishment conservative, writes, "It is likely to embolden more critical journalism in the unbrave patriotically correct world of US media."

Meanwhile, Timothy Karr reports that the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is protesting Koppel's alleged politicization of the war in Iraq by refusing to run Nightline on its eight ABC affiliates, makes 98 percent of its political contributions to Republicans.

Politics is in the eye of the beholder.

MEDIA LOG ON CNN. I'll be on CNN's Reliable Sources this Sunday (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) talking about media coverage of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. I'm told I'll be on with Boston Globe reporter Michael Kranish, lead author of the Globe Kerry bio, and National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

AN INTRIGUING TERROR CONNECTION. Is there an actual, provable link between Saddam Hussein's former regime and international terrorism? That's always been the big question. If the White House had been able to prove such a connection, a whole lot more people would have supported the war in Iraq.

This editorial in today's Wall Street Journal tells what is known so far (which is admittedly not much) about a terrorist attack that was foiled in Jordan earlier this month. Among the allegations: the terrorists had planned to use poison gas, which could have killed as many as 80,000 people; the gas came from Syria; it might have been shipped to Syria from Iraq before the war; and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom the Bush administration says was given carte blanche to operate in Iraq by Saddam's government, may have been behind the plot.

Here is a piece from the Christian Science Monitor of Tuesday covering much of the same ground.

Obviously we need to wait for a much more in-depth report. It's always curious when the Journal's right-wing editorial page runs with something that its news section - one of the finest in the world - has ignored. But this is potentially a huge story.

HATE SPEECH AT UMASS. There is opposing the war but supporting the troops. There is opposing the war while openly mocking the troops. And there is a UMass student by the name of Rene Gonzalez, who actually manages to trash the memory of Pat Tillman, the NFL star who joined the Army Rangers after 9/11, and who was killed in action in Afghanistan.

Gonzalez, after calling Tillman an "idiot," writes in the Daily Collegian:

Tillman, probably acting out his nationalist-patriotic fantasies forged in years of exposure to Clint Eastwood and Rambo movies, decided to insert himself into a conflict he didn't need to insert himself into. It wasn't like he was defending the East coast from an invasion of a foreign power. THAT would have been heroic and laudable. What he did was make himself useful to a foreign invading army, and he paid for it. It's hard to say I have any sympathy for his death because I don't feel like his "service" was necessary. He wasn't defending me, nor was he defending the Afghani people. He was acting out his macho, patriotic crap and I guess someone with a bigger gun did him in.

Wow. I guess what surprised me the most is that Gonzalez is described as a graduate student. Most people get such crap out of their systems by the time they're 21 or 22.

Well, Gonzalez's views are protected by the First Amendment, if not by the rule of common sense or decency.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY'S VERY BAD DAY. The historian and John Kerry biographer gets one upside the head from Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam. I'd say Beam has Brinkley dead to rights in his portrayal of him as a campaign surrogate.

Here is Brinkley's Tuesday piece for Salon (sub. req.) on the non-story of whether Kerry threw his ribbons or his medals over the fence in 1971. Pretty convincing. But - idiotic as this controversy may be - why can't Kerry explain it as succinctly and convincingly as Brinkley, Tom Oliphant, and Robert Sam Anson?

Naturally, Mickey Kaus thinks Anson's account is evidence of more shocking Kerry lies.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. When Bob met Dubya: Woodward's latest is a lot easier on the president than the author wants you to think.

Also, Jay Severin's Muslim moment.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

LET THEM EAT BOEUF! Media Log's slogan: You can't make this stuff up!® I just found this nugget near the end of John Harris's Washington Post story of last Saturday on Republican efforts to cast Senator John Kerry as a wealthy elitist:

There has been an echo of this kind of down-home invective in the controversy over Kerry's statement that foreign leaders secretly back his candidacy. Pressed last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" on where and when the leaders told him this, Kerry declined to say, but he noted: "You can go to New York City and you can be in a restaurant and you can meet a foreign leader."

This prompted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) on Monday to sneer: "I don't know where John Kerry eats, or what restaurants he attends in New York City. But I tell you, at the Taste of Texas restaurant - it's this great steakhouse in Houston, Texas - the only foreign leader you meet there is called filet mignon."

Boneless steak for a bonehead. Don't you wish Tom DeLay was your congressman?

COMMON USAGE. Not long after writing a piece on the rivalry between the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, I received a message from inside Wingo Square. My informant complained I hadn't noted that the title of the redesigned Boston Globe Magazine's front-of-the-book section - "Boston Uncommon" - was already being used by Herald sports columnist Howard Bryant.

Fair enough. But it turns out that "Boston Uncommon" is about as original as "it was a dark and stormy night." Click here and you'll see what I mean. "Boston Uncommon" has been used to describe wedding and honeymoon packages, attractions for students, and crab cakes. It's the name of a vocal group, the title of an article about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and the headline on a story about a Palm Beach County gardener who moved there from Boston.

The Christian Science Monitor used it for a things-to-do piece., a Florida website, used it for an 82-year-old guy who was planning to run the Boston Marathon. The Cincinnati Post used it to describe a former Ohio State football star named David Boston.

Titles are often used to evoke a sense of the familiar rather than dazzle with originality. They also can't be copyrighted, although they can be trademarked for certain limited purposes. (Very limited, as Roger Ailes learned when he went after Al Franken.)

Does any of this matter? No. Just thought I'd share.

AIR AMERICA'S GROWING PAINS. Ridiculous though it may be, it appears that the death watch has already begun for Air America Radio. The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that two of the liberal network's top executives, Mark Walsh and Dave Logan, have left the building - Walsh under his own power, Logan possibly not. This comes on the heels of a legal and financial dispute that has left Air America without stable homes in Los Angeles and Chicago.

The New York Times follows up today. And Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, tells the Washington Post the obvious: "Chaos is not a good sign." A nitwit named Corey Deitz goes so far as to argue that Air America hosts Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo should emulate Gordon Liddy. What, by going to prison?

Needless to say, Air America can't be heard in Boston, either, unless you're paying for satellite radio or listening to the live stream over the Web.

Obviously Air America is going through growing pains, or maybe something rather worse than that. But the network is still only a month old. The unanswered question - and the key to the whole operation - is how much money its backers are prepared to spend to get this thing off the ground. If they're willing to spend whatever it takes for a year or two, then the current chaos doesn't matter. If they were hoping to break even within months after launching, then one suspects they didn't know what they were getting into in the first place.

Air America continues to add affiliates, including WMTW Radio (AM 870) in Portland, Maine. The station is changing its call letters to WLVP, which veteran radio-watcher Scott Fybush guesses stands for "Liberal Voice of Portland."

One thing I wonder about is whether the liberal audience that Air America has targeted really understands how bad talk radio is most of the time. Everyone talks about how successful Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are, but they host dreadful, almost unlistenable shows - smug, boring, unentertaining agitprop that is nearly impossible to listen to unless you've been lobotomized. Air America wants to rise above that, but it's hard to do so hour after hour after hour. Conservatives may be willing to listen to such crap, but that's one of the reasons that they're conservatives.

Time will tell whether Air America is going to succeed, and money will determine how much time there is. Everything else is irrelevant.

THE SILENCE OF THE LEAKEE. There is a magical moment laying bare the media-political axis toward the end of today's James Risen New York Times story on Defense Department neocon conspiracy theorist Douglas Feith ("the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth," according to General Tommy Franks).

Risen writes this about Michael Maloof, one of several deep thinkers Feith brought in to concoct ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda:

Mr. Maloof's Pentagon career was damaged in December 2001, when his security clearances were revoked. He was accused of having unauthorized contact with a foreign national, a woman he had met while traveling in the Republic of Georgia and eventually married. Mr. Maloof said he complied with all requirements to disclose the relationship. Several intelligence professionals say he came under scrutiny because of suspicions that he had leaked classified information in the past to the news media, a charge that Mr. Maloof denies. His lawyer, Sam Abady says that Mr. Maloof was a target because of his controversial intelligence work and political ties to conservative Pentagon leaders.

Today's question: is there any chance whatsoever that Risen doesn't know whether or not Maloof had leaked classified information to the news media?

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

NOT-SO-TABLOID VALUES. The Boston Herald today opted for substance over sensation in a heartening way. Like the Boston Globe, the tabloid led with Superior Court judge Margot Botsford's ruling that the state's system for financing public education is inadequate and discriminates against poorer communities.

The front-page splash in the Herald is "SAVE OUR SCHOOLS," along with a photo of Julie Hancock, the Brockton 10th-grader who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. (Hancock is the daughter of Brockton School Committee member Maurice Hancock.) Inside is a meaty, two-page package - a lead story by Kevin Rothstein, sidebars by Rothstein on Hancock and school-funding activist Norma Shapiro, a column (sub. req.) by Mike Barnicle (who failed to stay on message, instead going off on a bender about gay marriage), and a chart showing educational inequities between rich and poor communities.

The Globe's coverage, by Anand Vaishnav, is fine, and I'll certainly take the Globe's supportive editorial over the Herald's miserly stance. But the Herald's package was, I hope, a sign that acting editor Ken Chandler's reign isn't going to be all sex and celebrity.

SMEARING KERRY'S SERVICE. There has always been something uniquely John Kerry-ish about the matter of whether it was his medals or his ribbons that he threw over the fence at that antiwar rally in Washington more than three decades ago, or even whether medals and ribbons are or are not the same thing. As Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi writes today, "A person watching Kerry run for president wants to shake him and say, 'Stop, please stop.'"

Still, ABC News's "exclusive" on Good Morning America yesterday is an utter disgrace - an attempt to make something out of nothing, and to impugn the integrity and patriotism of someone who came to oppose an immoral war in which he had fought. Tom Oliphant's eyewitness account in today's Globe ought to put this non-story to rest.

"God, they're doing the bidding of the Republican National Committee," the Globe's Patrick Healy quotes Kerry as saying of ABC. Kerry's right, and it's frighteningly reminiscent of the way that the media took dictation from the Republicans in going after Al Gore four years ago.

Yet Healy also undermines Kerry's ability to defend himself by getting something else half-right. In response to the ABC/GOP smear, Healy writes, "Kerry turned the issue against the president, saying for the first time that Bush was far more vulnerable on matters of Vietnam-era choices because of questions about whether he completed his service in the Texas Air National Guard. 'He owes America an explanation about whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. Prove it,' Kerry told NBC." Healy then adds:

Kerry has said for months that he would not question the president's Texas Air National Guard record even as his allies, such as the Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, and former US senator Max Cleland, suggested Bush had been "AWOL" at times in the early '70s and may not have completed his Guard service. Kerry said that, as a Vietnam veteran, he had come to terms with others' decisions about serving their country during the Vietnam era, and once defended President Clinton for not serving.

And then this, farther down in the article:

Republicans, meanwhile, pounced on Kerry's comments about Bush yesterday, noting his past pledge not to criticize the military service of other members of the Vietnam generation. "It's another example of John Kerry saying one thing and doing another: He said he would never question the president's honorable service in the National Guard, but now he is lashing out," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign. "It is a purely venomous political attack, and the American people will reject it."

Now, I can't cite chapter and verse. But I've followed this pretty closely, and it seems to me that Kerry has always said the issue he considered out of bounds was Bush's decision to serve in the Texas Air National Guard rather than opt for potentially more hazardous duty in the US military. To my knowledge, though, Kerry has never said he would not question whether Bush didn't serve in the National Guard. (Oof. Triple negative. Sorry.) Those are two completely different issues. Choosing to serve in the Guard is one thing; blowing it off is quite another. And if the Republicans are going to attack Kerry's military service, it is absurd to think that Kerry shouldn't fight back.

E.J. Dionne has a terrific column in today's Washington Post on the Republicans' loathsome attempts to smear Kerry's military record, noting that Bush's fellow Republican John McCain has come to Kerry's defense. Asks Dionne: "Now that McCain has spoken, will Bush have the guts to endorse or condemn the attacks on Kerry's service? Or will he just sit by silently, hoping the assaults do their work while he evades responsibility?"

Sadly, I think we already know the answer.

SEVERIN'S WORDS. The Boston Globe has obtained a transcript of WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Jay Severin's remarks of last Thursday, which he both defended and expressed "regret" for yesterday afternoon.

There appears to be something for everyone. On the one hand, Severin was right about what he actually said. He did not say, "I've got an idea, let's kill all Muslims," as claimed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has called for his firing. As Severin correctly said yesterday, his actual words to a caller were, "You think we should befriend them; I think we should kill them."

On the other hand, Severin offered virtually no context, at least according to the Globe report, by Michael Rosenwald. At one point, Severin is quoted as having said, "My suspicion is that the majority of Muslims in the United States, who regard themselves as Muslims first and not as Americans really at all, see an American map one day where this is the United States of Islam, not the United States of America. I think it pays to harbor those suspicions."

That doesn't sound like someone who was only advocating the killing of Islamist terrorists.

Monday, April 26, 2004

SEVERIN DENIES CHARGES. I just listened to Jay Severin's opening monologue on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM). Severin addressed the claim made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that he had said on his show last Thursday, "I've got an idea, let's kill all Muslims." Severin denied ever having said such a thing, blasted the Boston Globe for reporting CAIR's charges without contacting him first, but nevertheless expressed "regret" to anyone who was offended by his remarks.

Calling it "a big story about imagined hate speech," Severin said, "If we were to make a tape of it, I could find maybe 1000 recordings ... with my saying the following words: all Muslims are not terrorists, all Muslims are not our enemies. But, so far, all the terrorists killing us are Muslims." He referred to Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby's Sunday piece on Arab and Muslim hatred toward the United States, and to a front-page story in today's New York Times headlined "Militants in Europe Openly Call for Jihad and the Rule of Islam."

Severin said that his remark about killing Muslims came in response to a caller who advocated peaceful relations with those elements of the Islamic world that hate the US. "When he said to me, 'I think we should be befriend them,' I said, 'I have a different notion, a different policy. I think we should kill them,'" Severin said today. He added: "I certainly regret any misunderstanding. I certainly regret any discomfort that may have been caused by the misunderstanding of my remarks." But he said that he has been "very clear, very contextual, very consistent" in saying that the US should kill its Muslim enemies - not that it should kill all Muslims.

"My remarks were not taken out of context. Someone made up my remarks," Severin said. He charged that CAIR simply took what a listener had e-mailed to the organization and wrote up a press release demanding that Severin be fired. "Those words were never uttered by me. Not off the air, not on the air, not ever. Never uttered by me," he said, calling CAIR's characterization "100 percent false. A fantasy, a fabrication, totally made up."

Severin also accused the Globe of not checking with him before going to press. (The Globe's story was published on Sunday, not Saturday, as I mistakenly reported earlier today.) He said someone at the Globe told him today that the reporter, Jessica Bennett, had tried to reach him and failed. But Severin said, "I'm in a 24/7 business. Everyone knows how to contact me."

He added: "My statements weren't taken out of context. My statements were made up, and then printed by the Boston Globe. Now, I wish to repeat that I'm not here to offend anyone. [Media Log aside: Hah!] I'm here to provoke thought, I'm here to express opinion."

A few off-the-cuff observations:

- A couple of quibbles aside, I basically believe Severin. I am thoroughly disgusted by his referring to Arabs and Muslims as "towelheads," by his suggestions that the US should nuke its enemies, and by his advocacy of scorched-earth tactics in Iraq. But I listen to him enough to know that it's not credible to imagine he would suddenly call for the deaths of "all" Muslims. He's always been clear that he wants us to kill Islamist terrorists who are trying to kill us. And, of course, we should.

- Severin refers to the Globe as "a ridiculously irresponsible major newspaper" for going to print without first contacting him. But according to Bennett's story, she did contact the station's general manager, Matt Mills, who reportedly declined to comment. She also refers to Severin's remarks as "alleged," which does qualify things a bit. CAIR had put out a press release on the wires the day before the Globe story ran. Assuming that Bennett genuinely attempted to reach Severin and couldn't, her and the paper's choice was either to run with what they had or hold it. Maybe they could have waited another day, but I don't think the decision they made was wrong.

- Severin makes no reference to an e-mail that Mills supposedly sent to CAIR in which he said: "I have spoken to Jay Severin and he knows we take this seriously and do not condone offensive remarks toward any religious groups and he will be apologizing on his show Monday afternoon. He did not intend to offend anyone." Maybe Mills will now claim that he never sent any such e-mail. But assuming that he did, it sounds like Mills was upset with his star talk-show host. Severin should have talked about that rather than blaming everything on CAIR and the Globe.

Maybe he will later this afternoon. Unfortunately, I won't be listening, because I'm on deadline with other matters.

SEVERIN REPORTEDLY TO APOLOGIZE. Well, this should be interesting. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) claims it has been promised that WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Jay Severin will apologize today during his show for saying, "I've got an idea, let's kill all Muslims." Severin allegedly made that remark last Thursday.

CAIR quotes from an e-mail the organization says it received from the station's general manager, Mark Mills: "I have spoken to Jay Severin and he knows we take this seriously and do not condone offensive remarks toward any religious groups and he will be apologizing on his show Monday afternoon. He did not intend to offend anyone."

Severin's alleged outburst reportedly came he while talking about a supposed Muslim plan to take over America, even if it takes centuries. CAIR is calling for Severin to be fired. The organization's chairman, Omar Ahmad, is quoted as saying: "We believe a mere reprimand and apology is insufficient and demand that he be taken off the air as he would be if he had attacked any other religious or ethnic group."

The Boston Globe reported on Severin's latest on Saturday.

I didn't hear Severin, so I don't want to prejudge this. I'll wait to hear what he has to say shortly after 3. But if past is prologue, this is unsurprising. As I've observed previously, Severin regularly refers to Arabs and Muslims as "towelheads" and illegal immigrants as "wetbacks." He has often advocated the use of nuclear weapons against enemies of the United States. And with the death toll in Iraq rising, Severin has expressed frustration that the US military is engaging in urban warfare - thus costing American lives - instead of essentially leveling areas where the Iraqi opposition is strong.

But doesn't Severin have a First Amendment right to say such things? Yes, of course. What he doesn't have is a First Amendment right to host a talk show. Hate speech is protected, but it's up to the management of WTKK to decide whether it wants to pay for such garbage. And CAIR has a First Amendment right to protest and to demand that Severin be fired.

Recently another 'TKK talk-show host, Mike Barnicle, apologized for using the word "Mandingo" in referring to the marriage of former secretary of defense William Cohen, who's white, and former Boston television personality Janet Langhart, who's black.

Last October, WEEI Radio (AM 850), after initially trying to ride it out, suspended John Dennis and Gerry Callahan for two weeks after they jokingly referred to a gorilla that had escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo as a "Metco gorilla." Metco is a program that lets urban African-American kids attend public schools in the suburbs.

Two months before that, one of 'EEI's sister stations, WRKO Radio (AM 680), parted company with John "Ozone" Osterlind after Osterlind allegedly called for the "eradication" of the Palestinian people on the air. (At the time of his departure, Osterlind disputed what happened, and a complete tape of his offending remarks has never surfaced. And a disclosure: WRKO pays me to talk about the media on The Pat Whitley Show every Friday at 9 a.m.)

All this is only tangentially tied to the uproar over indecency. That, after all, only dates back to the Super Bowl. Rather, what all of these local incidents have in common is that they involve ugly joking, or even hate speech, about race, ethnicity, and/or religion. Such a thing would have been unheard of - literally - 10 years ago, but it has become a staple as corporate-owned radio chains have continued their downward spiral.

I suspect that Severin will slide by with an apology, and that he'll be able to claim his remarks were made within an entirely political context. In any event, stay tuned.

Friday, April 23, 2004

BITCH, BITCH, BITCH. If you turn to page E13 of today's Boston Globe, you'll find this where Doonesbury usually appears:

To our readers

The Globe has decided not to publish today's installment of "Doonesbury" because the strip includes language inappropriate for a general readership. The strip's creator declined to change the wording or offer a substitute. "Doonesbury" resumes in tomorrow's comics pages. Today's strip is available online at

Now, I already knew that B.D.'s leg had been blown off in Iraq. When I saw the disclaimer this morning, I figured cartoonist Garry Trudeau must have had him let loose an F-bomb. So I was more than a little surprised when I learned the offending phrase was "son of a bitch." Pretty mild stuff.

Romenesko's got a round-up of newspaper reaction. To me, the proof that the Globe overreacted was the decision by the Tallahassee Democrat to run the strip unedited.

A couple of additional observations:

- Adam Gaffin, the Roslindale guy behind Boston Online, did a quick search and found that the Globe published 12 articles last year that used the word "bitch." His suggestion: if "bitch" is too rough for the funny pages, move Doonesbury to the op-ed page. (He also suggests moving Mallard Fillmore and maybe Boondocks to op-ed, but, uh, don't you need room for columns and stuff?)

- The Globe's wimp-out suggests that the Internet has made it too easy for editors to err on the side of hypercaution. Doonesbury has always been controversial, and a number of newspapers have pulled it from time to time over the years. (And, kids, you're not going to believe this: Doonesbury used to be funny, too. It was during a time called the '70s.) Ten years ago, an editor would have to think long and hard before dumping that day's Doonesbury, since it would have been very difficult for readers to see it elsewhere. Today, not only can Globe readers find it on the Web, but the Globe gives them the URL.

The good part is that even if something like today's Doonesbury gets dumped, it's still widely available to almost everyone. The bad part is that this encourages fuzzy thinking: the consequences are much lower for an editor who decides not to run a cartoon if he or she knows that readers will be no more than mildly inconvenienced.

ANOTHER MAGIC WOODWARD MOMENT. The reason that the Bush-Cheney website recommends Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack is that George W. Bush is running for re-election and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld isn't.

In September 2002, according to Woodward, Bush met with congressional leaders and outlined the reasons he was considering going to war. By Woodward's account, it went well. Then it was Rumsfeld's turn. Woodward writes:

In the "Night Note for September 4," Christine M. Ciccone, a young lawyer who covered the Senate for [Nicholas] Calio [Bush's congressional liaison], reported on Rumsfeld's one-and-a-half-hour briefing. "You have already heard it was a disaster and [Trent] Lott views it as having destroyed all of the goodwill and groundwork that the president accomplished during his meeting this morning. I found myself struggling to keep from laughing out loud at times, especially when Sec. Rumsfeld became a caricature of himself with the 'we know what we know, we know there are things we do not know, and we know there are things we know we don't know we don't know.'"

Senators had expected that the briefing, coming on the heels of the president's meeting that morning, would begin the process of making the administration's case, she reported. "Instead, Secretary Rumsfeld was not prepared to discuss Iraq issues, was unwilling to share even the most basic intelligence information, and wasn't having a good day.... There is a lot of cleanup work to do here."

Obviously the senators didn't realize that Rummy was reciting poetry.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

WHAT THE POST DIDN'T TELL YOU. Here's an intriguing tidbit from Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack. In December 2001, the CIA - following up on information from Britain's MI6 - learned of Pakistan's role in nuclear proliferation. CIA director George Tenet reportedly had a meeting with Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, in which he "peel[ed] back the eyeballs" of his host.

Among other things, the CIA feared that nuclear technology had fallen into the hands of Al Qaeda.

The Washington Post learned of this as well. Woodward explains why you didn't read about it:

Two reporters at The Washington Post had got wind of the possible nuclear or dirty bomb threat and a story was about to be published on Sunday, December 2, with some of the details. With Tenet out of the country, a very senior CIA official called me at home hours before the story was to be printed and urged it be delayed.

Of Musharraf, the official said, "We leaned on him heavily" and were "turning the screws." The official said, "We just reached the point where they [the Pakistanis] will work with us. A story would cause them to clam up and they would see it as an attempt to pressure them" through the media. The information was sketchy, he said. "What we have is more suggestive than conclusive."

Len Downie, the executive editor of the Post, spoke with the CIA official and decided to hold the story.

Two days later, Woodward writes, the Post ran a watered-down version.

This is reminiscent of the New York Times' decision in 1961, at another time of high national anxiety, to tone down its story about the pending Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba after the White House intervened with legendary Washington columnist and editor James Reston. The Times and the Bay of Pigs is as much myth as fact - the truth is that the Times didn't really change its story all that much - but the the circumstances are similar.

I think the Post made the right call on the loose-nuke story, especially coming less than three months after 9/11. Still, it's interesting to find out what goes on behind closed doors at our leading news organizations.

DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT TECHNOLOGY. The New York Times is at it again. Just three days after publishing a story about the online-music industry that was largely based on a false premise, today the paper runs an editorial blasting the indecency crusade (good), with reasoning based on yet another false premise (bad, bad!).

Noting that Congress is now considering whether to extend indecency standards to pay-TV services such as HBO, home of The Sopranos, the Times writes: "Washington's pro-decency crusade is no excuse to regulate media that do not use public airwaves. Tony Soprano's foul speech is constitutionally protected."

My goodness gracious, no, as Donald Rumsfeld would say, and as Tony Soprano might soon be saying as well. As I explained recently, it might very well be possible to extend indecency standards to cable - including pay TV - because, in fact, those services do use the public airwaves. Remember, cable used to be called "community antenna television," and though the name has changed, the technology hasn't. Your local cable operator has a huge "head end" antenna somewhere in the vicinity that pulls programming off a satellite before sending it to your home. The signal travels from satellite to head-end antenna via - are you paying attention, Gail Collins? - the public airwaves!

Because of this, there are those who believe the FCC doesn't even need additional congressional approval to start regulating cable.

The best legal argument for leaving pay TV alone is that, unlike over-the-air broadcast channels that come into your home whether you want them or not, you've got to make two voluntary choices to get, say, HBO: first, you've got to sign up for cable or satellite TV; then you've got to make the additional decision to pay for HBO.

The Times' heart is in the right place, but it's not going to convince anyone if it can't make a technologically factual argument.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. What's wrong with campaign-finance reform. Also, the ghost of Thomas Jefferson has words with the Defense Department and the Secret Service.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

MAYBE IF ASHCROFT DEMANDS THE CAPE COD TIMES' SUBSCRIPTION LIST ... The indefatigable Walter Brooks has posted on his Cape Cod Media site two editorials on the loathsome Patriot Act. One, from the New York Times, is against it. The other, from the Cape Cod Times, is all for it.

Amazingly, the Cape Cod paper, part of the Dow Jones empire, goes so far as to support the most chilling part of the Patriot Act - Section 215, which allows federal agents, with minimal court oversight, to demand that a library or bookstore turn over the records of a patron in total secrecy, with no right of appeal. The editorial says:

That's why the Patriot Act allows - with FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court approval - the FBI to snoop and gather third-party records without the criminal requirement of certifying that a crime has already taken place, or informing the subject of a search with a traditional warrant. If a terror attack is looming, what would be the point of telling would-be Mohammed Attas they're under suspicion?

By contrast, the New York Times says this:

Among the most troubling provisions is Section 215, which allows the F.B.I. to order libraries, hospitals and others with personal records to hand over such information about individuals. People like librarians can be jailed if they refuse, or if they notify the targets. Another authorizes "sneak and peek" searches, in which the government can secretly search people's homes and delay telling them about the intrusions. As troubling as specific provisions like these is the "mission creep" that has inevitably occurred. Mr. Bush's own Justice Department told Congress last fall that the act's loosened restrictions on government surveillance were regularly being used in nonterrorism cases, like drug trafficking and white-collar crime.

Brooks presents the two editorials with this puckish introduction: "Both the Cape Cod Times and the New York Times ran lead editorials today on the wisdom of passing The Patriot Act which expires shortly. The two editorials are diametrically opposed, and we recommend that our readers be the judge of which advice to follow."

REAL MEN DON'T NEED TRIALS. Also not big on legal protections today is the Boston Herald, whose front-page - festooned with a huge file photo of Saddam Hussein shortly after being pulled out of the spider hole - declares: $75 MILLION TO PROVE WHAT WE KNOW ALREADY: HE'S GUILTY!

Inside, David Guarino's story makes the perfectly reasonable point that $75 million is an awful lot of money for the tribunal that Iraq plans to establish.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

KERRY'S RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN. Boston Globe Washington-bureau chief Peter Canellos has come up with a new way of framing the Bush-Kerry race. In his Tuesday "National Perspective" column, Canellos writes that Kerry is running as the incumbent and Bush as the challenger. The idea is that with Bush under fire for his handling of such life-and-death matters as Iraq and 9/11, it is Kerry who represents continuity and Bush who personifies radical change - change for the worse:

Kerry, for his part, seems to have realized that his best hope is to run as the Default President, the place to which voters can connect when the regular president goes on the fritz.

This makes Kerry's position unusual, to say the least, for a presidential challenger. Instead of painting castles in the sky and urging voters to share his dreams, Kerry has been grounding himself in the policies of the past. He will try to become the incumbent in the race, representing 50 years of postwar consensus against four years of Bush.

Canellos is definitely on to something, but is Kerry being smart? For the moment, yes, because Bush is melting down. But surely the Kerry campaign can't expect that to last through Election Day. Once Bush regains his groove, Kerry's current above-the-fray stance is going to start looking an awful lot like the diffidence that got him into so much trouble last year, when his campaign nearly died before it could reach the starting line.

Slate's Kerry-loathing blogger, Mickey Kaus, argues (scroll down to April 12) that the senator's best shot is to stay out of sight: "John Kerry does best when he's exposed to the voters least! His optimal approach is to let Bush stew in the Iraq mess while he remains offstage, an attractive unknown. Any other strategy is a triumph of vanity over recent experience."

But that's not right. In fact, it's when Kerry gets over-confident and slides into autopilot that he gets into trouble. In nearly every one of his political campaigns, he's looked surprisingly vulnerable until crunch time, when he goes into crisis mode and blows his opponent away, whether it be Bill Weld in Massachusetts eight years ago or Howard Dean in Iowa three months ago. Somehow I doubt that's going to work against Karl Rove.

It's crisis time right now, and it's going to stay that way until November.

SPEED READING. Unless you're actually planning to read all 432 pages of John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography by the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best (and you know you're not; I might, but then I get paid to do such things), you will want to check out Chris Suellentrop's amusing guide to the highlights.

Monday, April 19, 2004

WHEN DID BUSH TELL RICE HE WAS GOING TO WAR? How soon we forget! The national-security adviser went on CBS's Face the Nation yesterday and responded to the charge in Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, that George W. Bush decided to go to war in January 2003, while UN weapons inspections were still under way. The Los Angeles Times reports:

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that President Bush's decision to invade Iraq was not made in January 2003, as a new book asserts, but came in March, after all efforts to avoid a war had been exhausted.

The statement in "Plan of Attack," by Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, is "simply not, not right," Rice said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

In an interview broadcast yesterday evening on CBS's "60 Minutes," Woodward said that "the decision [to invade] was conveyed to Condi Rice in early January.... [Bush] was frustrated with the weapons inspections. He had promised the United Nations and the world and the country that either the U.N. would disarm Saddam [Hussein] or he, George Bush, would do it, and do it alone if necessary."

But Rice said the final determination that war would occur came more than two months after their private conversation at Bush's Texas ranch.

In that conversation, Rice told CBS, she and Bush were discussing Bush's frustrations with Saddam, who Bush said "was starting to fool the world again, as he had over the past 12 years."

"He said, 'Now, I think we probably are going to have to go to war, we're going to have to go to war,'" Rice said.

But that "was not a decision to go to war," she continued. "The decision to go to war is in March. The president is saying in that [January] conversation, 'I think the chances are that this is not going to work out any other way. We're going to have to go to war.'"

You can read the full Face the Nation transcript here (PDF format). But let's get real, shall we? If anything, Woodward is being incredibly generous to the White House in asserting that the decision was not made until January 2003. Here's the lead of a piece that appeared in Time magazine on March 31, 2003:

"F--- Saddam. we're taking him out." Those were the words of President George W. Bush, who had poked his head into the office of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. It was March 2002, and Rice was meeting with three U.S. Senators, discussing how to deal with Iraq through the United Nations, or perhaps in a coalition with America's Middle East allies. Bush wasn't interested. He waved his hand dismissively, recalls a participant, and neatly summed up his Iraq policy in that short phrase. The Senators laughed uncomfortably; Rice flashed a knowing smile. The President left the room.

As far as I know, Time's account has never been challenged. As we know from a spate of new books - by former counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke, journalist Ron Suskind (who collaborated with former Treasury secretary Paul O'Neill), and others - the White House, and especially Vice-President Dick Cheney, started talking about going to war with Iraq in 2001, especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, spoke infamously about not wanting to roll out a "new product" (war, that is) until September 2002.

And good grief: Time's Karen Tumulty was on the set with Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer yesterday, but she never said a thing about her own magazine's year-old exclusive. What is wrong with these people?

DIGITALLY CLUELESS AT THE TIMES. In today's New York Times, Ken Belson writes about Sony's attempts to catch up with Apple in the online music business. The ninth paragraph is a howler:

Like Apple's iTunes online music store, [Sony's] Connect will have 500,000 songs that can be downloaded for 99 cents each. But while iTunes songs can be played only on iPods, Sony already sells a variety of devices, including minidisc and compact disc players, which can play songs bought on Connect's Web site. Sony's new Hi-MD disc player, for instance, will hold up to 45 hours of music on one disc, which will retail for about $7.

Well, uh, no. Not even close. At the most basic level, you can burn a CD with songs that you download from the iTunes Music Store, allowing you to listen to your music on any CD player on the planet. In fact, that's the way most people use the store - popular though the iPod may be, there are far more iTunes Music Store customers out there than there are iPod owners. Belson should have looked at this.

But though that's Belson's most obvious mistake, it goes deeper. Apple sells songs in a format known as AAC, which appears to be the crux of Belson's confusion. AAC is a competitor to MP3 that provides slightly smaller file sizes, slightly better sound quality, and "digital rights management" protection - that is, you can burn "playlists" onto a few CDs, but you can't burn, say, 100, at least not without changing the order of the tracks. There are a few other limitations, too. The idea is to let you share your music with family members and friends, but not to enable full-scale piracy.

However, the tracks on the CD you've just burned are no longer AACs - they've been expanded into standard AIFF files, as are all sound tracks on CDs. (This obviously doesn't mean that the richness that was stripped out when the music was compressed has somehow been magically restored; that's gone for good.) You can now take your CD and rip it into plain, unprotected MP3s. (Apple's claims that these MP3s will somehow be unlistenable are - how to put this? - not true. This is the equivalent of your first-grade teacher telling you that you will die if you put your pencil in your mouth.)

Now you can do anything you like with your MP3-ized iTunes songs - copy them onto a non-Apple MP3 player, burn them onto a CD-MP3 disc (like the 45-hour disc to which Belson refers), whatever. Some of those devices might even carry the Sony brand.

This is not a minor error that Belson made. The entire point of his story is that consumers of digital music are awash in a sea of proprietary standards - Apple's got one, Microsoft's got another, and now Sony is about to introduce yet another. Gosh darn, what is the poor consumer to do?

Well, one place to start is to go somewhere other than the New York Times for authoritative information.

Friday, April 16, 2004

SNOOP DOGGED. The problem with Alexander Cockburn's CounterPunch is that you have to wade through dreck like this: "In Nazi Germany and the old Soviet Union, both run by a better class of people than we now have in public service in the U.S. of A. today ..."

Still, the essay from which that bit of hate speech is taken, by a lawyer named J. Michael Springmann, is worth reading. Springmann was subjected to e-mail surveillance under the Patriot Act because he represented a woman who was a suspected Al Qaeda agent. Springmann writes:

Beyond the violation of attorney-client privilege and the invasion of my privacy and that of my correspondents, I no longer have access to my E-mail addresses, since AOL kept them on its computer. And so I cannot inform my contacts that I have a new E-mail provider. I have no idea whether the Justice Department is still reading the E-mail messages sent and received by my correspondents, whose addressees turned up in the seizure of my accounts. Indeed, I continue to have problems sending and receiving messages to my friends and clients around the world with my new provider (which causes me to wonder if the process is not still continuing). And I must explain to clients and potential clients rightly concerned about confidentiality that the U.S. government has read and may still read E-mails to and from them.

In John Ashcroft's America, Springmann's tale is shocking, but not surprising. (Thanks to civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate for passing that along.)

THE SOUND OF MONEY. It seems that the San Francisco Chronicle just can't stay out of conflict-of-interest controversies. The latest: David Ewing Duncan, a freelance columnist who covers the biotech industry, and who also runs a company involved in biotech.

As Stanford University's Grade the News reports, the Chronicle okayed the arrangement, requiring only that Duncan disclose his conflict. Yet, last year, the Chronicle fired columnist Henry Norr for participating in an anti-war protest. Norr covered technology; his extracurricular activities may have been inappropriate for a journalist, but they hardly represented a conflict.

More recently, the Chronicle reassigned reporter Rachel Gordon and photographer Liz Mangelsdorf, who had been covering the gay-marriage story, after they themselves got married at City Hall. As I wrote at the time, I think the Chronicle made the right call, since they didn't just get married, but were actually taking part in the very civil disobedience that they were covering.

But the Chronicle, having set a very high standard with Norr, Gordon, and Mangelsdorf, should do no less when it comes to financial conflicts. I guess money talks. (Thanks to BK for this.)

THE CONFUSION IS ALL MITT'S. Try keeping a straight face while reading about Governor Mitt Romney's latest tactic to delay gay marriage. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

The quote of the day is from Attorney General Tom Reilly, commenting on the confusion and panic on the part of city and town clerks that Romney claims will break out if the May 17 marriage deadline isn't put off. Said Reilly: "This isn't all that hard. A half-day's training would do it."

Thursday, April 15, 2004

LESS AIR FOR AIR AMERICA. I caught about 40 minutes of Air America Radio's Morning Sedition today, and no mention of the financial wrangling that has knocked the liberal network off the air in Chicago and Los Angeles. The Chicago Tribune reports on the battle, which Drudge broke yesterday.

Drudge also links to Air America's statement, which, as a lawyer might put it, is just loaded with actionable phrases (highly entertaining!), and a copy of Air America's lawsuit, which is available on the Smoking Gun.

The dispute is between Air America and Arthur Liu, who is the head of a small radio chain called Multicultural Broadcasting. Curiously, when I wrote about Air America's pre-broadcast plans in December (it was then known as Central Air), Internet radio guru Scott Fybush identified Liu's stations in Watertown and Lynn as possible Boston-area outlets.

Liu, though, told me that it wasn't going to happen, because Air America wanted to buy his stations outright and he didn't want to sell, although he would be willing to lease airtime. "We're not in that game," Liu said with regard to a sale.

Even more curiously, it appears that Air America did finally decide to lease time on Liu's stations in Chicago and Los Angeles - and is now paying a high price for that.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. A spate of recent books and articles shows that the debacle in Iraq didn't have to happen.

Also, a new study on the economic impact of the Democratic National Convention has provoked a dispute between Boston Herald columnist Cosmo Macero Jr. and the Beacon Hill Institute.

KERRY'S NEMESIS. My former Phoenix colleague Jon Keller, of WLVI-TV (Channel 56), has been nominated for a New England Emmy for his half-hour special of last November, "John Kerry: One Reporter's Journal." Keller also got an Emmy nomination in the reporting category.

Somehow I don't think the senator will be attending the awards banquet.

A few months ago Keller and I debated the merits of Kerry's presidential candidacy on the New Republic's website. You can read it here if you're a subscriber.

WHO KNEW? "Study Shows Heavy Drinking Can Impair Brain Function" - Boston Globe headline, 4/15/04

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

KERRY AND THE GLOBE. Talk about timing. Yesterday, Slate's Tim Noah posted a follow-up to a piece he'd written earlier contending that the Boston Globe despises John Kerry. Noah argues that Globe editor Marty Baron's preface to a new book, John F. Kerry: The Complete Biography by the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him Best, "demonstrates Kerry's unique ability to get under the Globe's skin."

This morning, the Globe published a front-page, below-the-fold story by Michael Kranish - the lead author of the Kerry bio - questioning whether Kerry deserved the first of the three Purple Hearts he won while serving in the Vietnam War. The story, headlined "Kerry Faces Questions over Purple Heart," examines the claims of a few right-wing Vietnam veterans who've never gotten over Kerry's becoming a leading anti-war activist after he returned home.

Kranish writes:

"He had a little scratch on his forearm, and he was holding a piece of shrapnel," recalled Kerry's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Grant Hibbard. "People in the office were saying, 'I don't think we got any fire,' and there is a guy holding a little piece of shrapnel in his palm." Hibbard said he couldn't be certain whether Kerry actually came under fire on Dec. 2, 1968, the date in question and that is why he said he asked Kerry questions about the matter.

But Kerry persisted and, to his own "chagrin," Hibbard said, he dropped the matter. "I do remember some questions, some correspondence about it," Hibbard said. "I finally said, 'OK, if that's what happened ... do whatever you want.' After that, I don't know what happened. Obviously, he got it, I don't know how."

Kerry declined to talk to the Globe about the issue during the preparation of the Kerry biography. But his press secretary, Michael Meehan, noted that the Navy concluded that Kerry deserved the Purple Heart.

Kranish's piece, overall, is fair: he points out at great length that regardless of whether Kerry deserved his first Purple Heart, it is nevertheless true that his reputation for heroism under fire is well-deserved. But the pullquote, from Hibbard - "I've had thorns from a rose that were worse" - is absolutely brutal.

The Globe has developed something of a reputation for Kerry-bashing during this presidential campaign. In addition to Tim Noah's two-parter, ABC News's political dope sheet, The Note, last November got at how just-fired Kerry-campaign chief Jim Jordan felt about the Globe by writing a fictional letter from Jordan to his replacement, Mary Beth Cahill. "Jordan" whacked the Globe for "what is the most relentlessly negative coverage of any presidential candidate EVER by a hometown paper - and I mean the news page. Don't even get me started on the op-ed page." (Media Log realizes that this is so post-modern as to be meaningless.)

During a recent interview, I asked Baron about the perception that the Globe is anti-Kerry. Among other things, Baron called Noah's first piece "silly." It didn't make it into the piece I was working on (hey, I only had 8000 words!), but here is part of the exchange we had:

Q: How do you plead?

A: I plead objective. We're covering him like we cover anybody else. Obviously there were some stories that he probably would have preferred not to see. We spent a lot of time researching John Kerry, more than anybody else had, as far as I can tell. The seven-part series that we did last June was as thorough a piece on a politician that's probably run anywhere in a newspaper. Maybe that's a bit of hyperbole, but I think it was pretty damn thorough. And in the process we learned a lot about John Kerry that had not been previously known. Look, he's running for president, we should know that.

There were things that we wrote about Howard Dean that the Howard Dean campaign was not terribly happy to see, and that actually affected his campaign in a major way. The stuff about attracting offshore companies, special tax breaks for insurance companies, things of that sort. The tax plan. They weren't terribly happy to see those stories, either. John Kerry used those stories to his advantage.

Q: When does the Kerry book come out?

A: Next month. It's written. It's finished.

Q: How far does this move beyond the seven-part series? Is there a lot of new material?

A: Yeah, I actually think there is new material. It's substantially longer than the seven-part series, obviously, in order to make a book. But in the process the reporters had a lot of additional material in their notebooks. They also did additional reporting for the book, and posed additional questions to the Kerry campaign. Some of those questions were answered. Not all of those questions were answered.

Q: What do you hope the book will accomplish?

A: That people will have a complete understanding of John Kerry, as best as it can be developed at this point. Obviously I think it's important, and I thought it was important when we went into this campaign, that the Boston Globe be the source, the definitive source for information about John Kerry. That I didn't think we should leave any crumbs on the table for anybody else to pick up. That we should do a thorough job, that we should be the point of reference for anyone who really wants to know about John Kerry. And that should be our job as the major newspaper in this market.

So does the Globe have it in for Kerry? A few columnists do. But as I told Noah back in January, and as he acknowledged, there really isn't anyone at the Globe who despises Kerry as much as do Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr and WLVI-TV (Channel 56) political analyst Jon Keller. More than anything, though, I think the Globe's coverage of Kerry shows that it's not the same paper that gave aid and succor to the Kennedys and other liberal Democrats for many years. That began to change under Baron's predecessor, Matt Storin, and has accelerated since the arrival of Baron, in 2001.

Is the story of Kerry's first Purple Heart legitimate? Yes, but just barely. If Kerry's war heroism were being questioned, that would be one thing, but Kranish's story doesn't do that. More than anything, Kranish is advancing the agenda of the sort of extremists who still hold signs reading "Vietnam Vets Are Not Fonda Jane." While Kerry may have been seeking a less-than-meaningful Purple Heart, George W. Bush was presumably memorizing the names of his frat brothers at Yale.

But Baron's philosophy is that the Globe is going to report everything about Kerry, and not "leave any crumbs on the table." That's not negative reporting. It is aggressive reporting, more aggressive than Kerry has perhaps been used to over the years. And, in this particular case, bordering on being more aggressive than is warranted by what happened all those years ago.

WHAT WAS THE QUESTION? George W. Bush last night gave his first televised news conference since before the war in Iraq. I caught it in chunks. I have no immediate reaction, but here was the toughest question (full transcript), followed by Bush's answer/non-answer:

Q: Mr. President, before the war you and members of your administration made several claims about Iraq. That US troops would be greeted as liberators with sweets and flowers. That Iraqi oil revenue would pay for most of the reconstruction. And that Iraq not only had weapons of mass destruction, but as Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said, we know where they are. How do you explain to Americans how you got that so wrong? And how do you answer your opponents who say that you took this nation to war on the basis of what have turned out to be a series of false premises?

A: Well, let me step back and review my thinking prior to going into Iraq. First, the lesson of September 11 is when this nation sees a threat, a gathering threat, we've got to deal with it. We can no longer hope that oceans protect us from harm. Every threat we must take seriously.

Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was a threat because he had used weapons of mass destruction on his own people. He was a threat because he coddled terrorists. He was a threat because he funded suiciders [sic]. He was a threat to the region. He was a threat to the United States. That's the assessment that I made from the intelligence, the assessment that Congress made from the intelligence. That's the exact same assessment that the United Nations Security Council made with the intelligence.

I went to the UN as you might recall and said, Either you take care of him or we will. Anytime an American president says, If you don't, we will, we better be prepared to. And I was prepared to. I thought it was important for the United Nations Security Council that when it says something, it means something for the sake of security in the world. See, the war on terror had changed the calculations. We needed to work with people. People needed to come together - and therefore, empty words would embolden the actions of those who are willing to kill indiscriminately. The United Nations passed a Security Council resolution unanimously that said, Disarm or face serious consequences. And he refused to disarm.

I thought it was very interesting that Charlie Duelfer, who just came back - he's the head of the Iraqi Survey Group - reported some interesting findings from his recent tour there. And one of the things was he was amazed at how deceptive the Iraqis had been toward UNMOVIC and UNSCOM [the UN agencies that searched Iraq for weapons of mass destruction], deceptive at hiding things. We knew they were hiding things. A country that hides something is a country that is afraid of getting caught. And that was part of our calculation. Charlie confirmed that. He also confirmed that Saddam had a - the ability to produce biological and chemical weapons. In other words, he was a danger. He had long-range missiles that were undeclared to the United Nations. He was a danger. And so we dealt with him.

What else, part of the question? Oh, oil revenues. Well, the oil revenues are, they're bigger than we thought they would be at this point in time. I mean one year after the liberation of Iraq, the revenues of the oil stream is pretty darn significant. One of the things I was concerned about prior to going into Iraq was that the oil fields would be destroyed. But they weren't. They're now up and running. And that money is, it will benefit the Iraqi people. It's their oil. And they'll use it to reconstruct the country.

Finally, the attitude of the Iraqis toward the American people: it's an interesting question. They're really pleased we got rid of Saddam Hussein. And you can understand why. This is a guy who's a torturer, a killer, a maimer. There's mass graves. I mean he was a horrible individual that really shocked the country in many ways, shocked it into kind of a fear of making decisions toward liberty. That's what we've seen recently. Some citizens are fearful of stepping up. And they were happy - they're not happy they're occupied. I wouldn't be happy if I were occupied either.

They do want us there to help with security. And that's why this transfer of sovereignty is an important signal to send. And it's why it's also important for them to hear we will stand with them until they become a free country.

Okay, now. Where are the weapons? What did Rumsfeld mean? Why did we have to lay out $87 billion when the oil revenues were supposed to pay for the occupation? Why are the Iraqis killing Americans?

Never mind. Next question.

FREE-SPEECH FORUM. On Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Cambridge Public Library, I'll be taking part in a panel put together by PEN New England's Freedom to Write Committee.

Billed as a forum on the Patriot Act, I'll be joined by library director Susan Flannery, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, and ACLU of Massachusetts executive director Carol Rose. The discussion will be moderated by Judith Nies and introduced by Fred Marchant.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

SCALIA'S EMPTY APOLOGY. Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia is very, very sorry, and those to whom he has apologized seem very, very pleased. But what everyone is very, very missing is that he didn't apologize for anything he did. Rather, he apologized for the actions of a deputy marshal, Melanie Rube, who confiscated a tape from one reporter and a digital recorder from another during a speech by Scalia at a Mississippi high school last week.

Scalia's letter to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is online here (PDF file). Check out these excerpts:

You are correct that the action was not taken at my direction; I was as upset as you were. I have written to the reporters involved, extending my apology and undertaking to revise my policy so as to permit recording for use of the print media.


With regard to your further suggestion that I direct security personnel not to confiscate recordings - presumably even those made in violation of clearly announced rules: Security personnel, both those of the institutions at which I speak, and the United States Marshals, do not operate at my direction, but I shall certainly express that as my preference.

Can you figure out what Scalia is apologizing for? I can't. And how would you like to be Melanie Rube today? She may have been out of line, but don't you think she was scared to death about what would happen to her when she realized two reporters were violating Scalia's no-record policy? Why doesn't Scalia apologize to her for putting her in an impossible situation?

Talk about a meaningless apology.

DON'T THINK TWICE, IT'S TOO WEIRD. I had assumed that Bob Dylan's appearance in a Victoria's Secret ad defied commentary. But Seth Stevenson is giving it his best shot in Slate. Here's the ad, in which a tres sexy model cavorts to Dylan's song "Love Sick" while Zimmy himself pops up a few times, like an elderly lecher trying to peer into the model's window.

Rather than attempt to explicate this myself, I will merely note that "Love Sick" - which kicks off Dylan's multiple-Grammy 1997 album, Time out of Mind - is amassing a strange history. While Dylan was performing "Love Sick" at the 1998 Grammys, a guy jumped onto the stage with the words "Soy Bomb" painted on his bare chest and slithered around for about half a minute before being hauled away.

From vegetarianism to lingerie.

Monday, April 12, 2004

SOMBER ANNIVERSARY. Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden, an embed with the Army's Third Infantry Division last year, has a terrific "Radio Diary" at the website for the WBUR Radio program On Point.

Crittenden recalls riding through the desert with the Atlantic Monthly's Michael Kelly and NBC News's David Bloom. Within days, both would die, Kelly when a jeep in which he was riding came under attack, Bloom of an embolism that was probably caused by his cramped traveling conditions.

"It was not possible that Bloom and Kelly could be dead and I would survive," Crittenden says. "I was already dead. It just hadn't happened yet."

Crittenden also recalls his unit's rolling into Baghdad and coming under fire - a moment when he called out the positions of Iraqi gunners and thus helped US soldiers to kill them. He wrote about it unapologetically, even defiantly, in the Herald last April. Now he says of those doomed Iraqis:

I watched you die. Forgive me. We all made our choices when we showed up for work that day. It was your day to die. Not mine. But I remember you. I observe the anniversary of your deaths and those of David Bloom and Michael Kelly with the knowledge that this year of life has been a gift.

Via Hub Blog.

THE RETURN OF CLARIBEL VENTURA. In the early days of the welfare-reform movement, there was no more horrifying a symbol of dysfunctional dependency than Claribel Ventura. It was a young Boston Globe reporter named Charles Sennott - now a foreign correspondent - who helped make her so.

Ventura, then a 26-year-old welfare mother of six, was accused of scalding her four-year-old son's hands with boiling water as punishment for eating her boyfriend's food. In 1994 Sennott checked in on her extended family, and found that it had about 100 members, virtually none of them working, pulling in about $1 million a year in government benefits.

It may be no exaggeration to say that welfare reform might never have happened in Massachusetts without Sennott's story. Indeed, the fact that the liberal Globe would publish such a story was seen in some circles as a sign that the political structure now had permission to try something new.

Now Sennott, on a visit to Boston, has tracked down Ventura in an effort to learn what he had wrought. He writes that Ventura's life today is a mixed success: after seven years in prison, she appears to have kicked drugs, and has begun a new family. Yet - not surprisingly - she remains consumed with bitterness and resentment, especially toward him.

Sennott also notes that legislators are threatening to cut funding for the drug treatment program that helped Ventura put her life more or less in order.

The welfare-reform story is a muddled one. Certainly ending the culture of dependency was necessary. Yet the law's Draconian aspects - especially its emphasis on low-paid work over education, which traps families in a cycle of poverty - bespeak to shortsightedness on the part of then-governor Bill Weld, who appeared to be more interested in scoring cheap political points than anything else.

Claribel Ventura was a powerful symbol. I even found an academic article called "Bad Mothers and Welfare Reform in Massachusetts: The Case of Claribel Ventura" in a 1997 book, Feminism, Media & the Law.

Sennott reminds us that the symbol he helped create is also a real person.

MORE SCALIA. Good Bob Herbert column in today's New York Times on Scaliagate. Even if Herbert does seem to think that reporters have a constitutional right to record Scalia's speeches. (They don't.)