Saturday, October 30, 2004

THE POLITICS OF TERRORISM. The re-emergence of Osama bin Laden raises a natural question three days before the presidential election: who benefits politically? This is dicey territory, and it's easy to come off as flip or disrespectful. But since bin Laden almost certainly wants to influence the outcome of the election, we ought to try to figure out what he's looking for. Not that it should change our minds about anything.

I can't seem to find the link this morning - I remember seeing it on Slate, but maybe it was elsewhere - but I subscribe to the bipartisan view that bin Laden would like to see George W. Bush win, because he's such a great recruiting tool for Al Qaeda, but that the Iraqi insurgents would like to see John Kerry win, because they're convinced he'll cut a deal (or cut and run). So, terroristically speaking, it's a wash.

Now, if it's true that bin Laden wants Bush, then it's fascinating to see how he weaves in bits from Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, including the part about Bush continuing to read My Pet Goat to the schoolchildren after the second World Trade Center tower had been hit. Kerry has adopted some of this rhetoric in his own campaign. Nothing wrong with that - Bush should be criticized for his seeming inability to excuse himself politely and get to work in the midst of Pearl Harbor II. Atmospherically, though, it can't help Kerry to have bin Laden delivering the same lines during the campaign's final hours. Is that deliberate on bin Laden's part?

And by the way, Kerry has been getting ripped lately for being a Monday-morning quarterback by criticizing Bush for "outsourcing" the job of killing bin Laden after he'd escaped to Tora Bora. The New York Times' David Brooks has a column today that's typical.

Well, fine. But shouldn't Kerry's critics point out that Monday morning took place not during this campaign but in June 2002? That's when Kerry appeared on Meet the Press and leveled that criticism for the first time. Kerry said:

Al Qaeda, a thousand strong, was gathered in one single mountain area, Tora Bora, and we turned to Afghans, who a week earlier had been fighting for the other side, and said, "Hey, you guys go up there in the mountains and go after the world's number-one terrorist and criminal who just killed 3000-plus Americans." I think that was an enormous mistake. I think the Tora Bora operation was a failed military operation.... And the fact is that the prime target, Al Qaeda, has dispersed and in many ways is more dangerous than it was when it was in the mountains of Tora Bora.

HUMAN TOUCH. The stakes in this election are so high that it's almost impossible not to personalize everything. If you're a regular Media Log reader, then you know that I think Bush is the worst president since Richard Nixon, and that the war in Iraq was by far the biggest foreign-policy blunder since Vietnam - maybe bigger. And on and on: tax cuts for the rich, the environment, civil liberties, etc., etc. You know the drill.

Anyway, I want you to read this post ("Bush for President") by John Ellis about his cousin. I know Ellis a bit and like him. He has been unfairly skewered for doing his job at Fox News four years ago - that is, calling Florida for Bush and, like everyone else, getting it wrong. Ellis does not change my mind about anything. But it's a useful reminder that Bush is human, and that - though I find his arrogant, bird-flipping, good-old-boy act incredibly off-putting - in his private life he's a perfectly fine person.

When it's all over, be it Wednesday morning or January 2009, I think the tragedy of the Bush presidency will be that he lacked the wisdom, the judgment, and the maturity to know enough not to surround himself with the likes of Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, and to do everything they tell him.

Bush is not my kind of guy. Remember his mocking Karla Faye Tucker after her execution? I think the country's future depends on his losing on Tuesday. But still, we should remember that there's an actual person behind the caricature.

WHO'S WINNING? Oh, who knows? Bush, 280; Kerry 243. Slate: Kerry, 272; Bush, 266. Zogby: Kerry, 47 percent; Bush, 46 percent. (Four years ago at this time: Bush, 46 percent; Gore, 42 percent.) Real Clear Politics: Bush, 48.7 percent; Kerry, 46.2 percent.

Friday, October 29, 2004

"I CAN'T BELIEVE I'M LOSING TO THIS GUY." That's what Jon "Mike Dukakis" Lovitz said about Dana "George Bush" Carvey 16 years ago. And it's what John Kerry ought to be saying about George W. Bush today.

No, Kerry's not exactly losing. The polls are very close (though Kerry's behind in all of them), and there are trends that work in Kerry's favor: the fact that undecideds tend to break for the challenger, and the enormous voter-registration efforts made by Democratic groups. Media Log is predicting that Kerry will squeak out a victory. But I say that with full knowledge that the numbers suggest otherwise. All this despite another mind-blowing week underscoring the incompetence and perniciousness of the Bush administration.

The big news of the week, of course, is that the Pentagon allowed 380 tons of incredibly dangerous explosives to slip through its grasp following the invasion of Iraq. The White House has been spinning like mad all week. Just yesterday, Bush denounced Kerry's "wild charges." But now a videotape has turned up containing incontrovertible proof that the US military moved through the compound in April 2003, happened upon what was likely a vast store of explosives, and - lacking orders to do anything about it - moved on.

Josh Marshall has been on this like a lamprey eel on a lake trout. Be sure to read his account of former weapons inspector David Kay's interview with CNN's Aaron Brown.

But if the missing explosives is the most important story, it's far from the only one.

The Bushies are trying to take away the NAACP's tax exemption, because chairman Julian Bond had the temerity to speak out against the Great Leader, and because the Republicans can't bring back the poll tax until the second term, after they've replaced a few justices on the Supreme Court.

Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, on whose payroll he remains, is under criminal investigation.

A new study suggests that 100,000 Iraqi civilians died for what Cheney calls a "remarkable success story."

And the flagging campaign of Kentucky senator Jim Bunning, a Republican whose re-election is key to the GOP maintaining its majority, is taunting Democratic opponent Daniel Mongiardo as one of them "limp-wristed" guys, if you follow their drift.

All of which is why Kerry ought to be saying: I can't believe I'm losing to this guy.

Three more days to change that.

PAGING JOE FITZGERALD! The Boston Herald's selectively outraged ethics cop needs to be heard from. Today the Herald runs a story about the arrest of Mathew Westling, the son of former Boston University president Jon Westling, who was charged with acting up in Kenmore Square after the Red Sox' World Series victory. The Herald's headline: "Son of BU Ex-Prez Strikes Out with Police."

Oh, my. Isn't that exactly what got Joe Fitz so upset with the Globe when it noted in a subhead that Joe Nee - charged in the South Shore Columbine wanna-be case - was the son of Boston police union president Tom Nee?

Why, yes it is! Here's what Joe Fitz wrote just eight days ago: "What did this father's job have to do with his kid's alleged offense? How were the two in any way connected, let alone worthy of such attention?" That Fitzgerald column was headlined, "Globe's Headline Hit Way Below the Belt."

It will be fascinating to see whether Fitzgerald displays equal empathy for the Westling family.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

PRACTICING FOR ELECTION NIGHT. Watch the video here. (Thanks to Susan Ryan-Vollmar.)

HAD O'TOOLE BEEN TRAINED? Yesterday's coverage of the investigation into Victoria Snelgrove's death left a significant unanswered question: had Deputy Superintendent Robert O'Toole been trained to use the "less lethal" pepper-pellet gun or not? According to the Globe, he hadn't been; according to the Herald, he is "among the city's most experienced weapons experts."

Today that question appears to have been resolved in favor of the Herald's account. Here is today's Globe:

Disputing an account in yesterday's Globe, [attorney] Timothy M. Burke said his client [O'Toole] was trained to use the weapon....

Police sources and a person involved in the investigation into Snelgrove's death have told the Globe that Robert O'Toole was not trained to use the weapon.

But Burke said his client was trained to use the gun and fired it "at least 10 times" when he attended a five-day civil disturbance seminar in Ithaca, N.Y., prior to the Democratic National Convention in July....

Asked if O'Toole's firing the weapon 10 times at a single instructional session constituted being trained, Burke said, "In conjunction with his use of all sorts of weapons, yes."

The Herald reports today on whether O'Toole may have abandoned his supervisory role by firing the gun himself.

AT LONG LAST. My Red Sox memories are the same as yours, so no need to rattle on at too much length. I first became dimly aware of the Sox in the Impossible Dream year of 1967, and began following them closely in 1968. That kicked off a several-year span when I would read the Sporting News from front to back, right down to obscure goings-on in the Pacific Coast League.

I watched the sixth and seventh games of the 1975 World Series with my parents, who were then the same age that Mrs. Media Log and I are today. The 1978 playoff game took place on the same day that my media-law class at Northeastern was meeting for the first time. We all assumed the professor, Joe Mahoney, would let us go as soon as he took attendance. We assumed wrong, but we did get out in time to hear Bucky Dent do his thing on a radio at the Northeastern News. By 1986, my father had passed away and my mother was terminally ill; she and I watched the horrifying sixth and inevitable seventh games together. Since then, I haven't gotten too emotionally invested in the Sox, although - like everyone else - I walked around in a daze for a while last year over Grady Little's utter loss of sanity.

But like I said, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. You've lived it, too. So last night was just an incredibly satisfying moment. I've never believed in the Curse, unless you define it as perpetually fielding teams that aren't good enough. But for this team, in particular, to win it all was astounding. They were dead through July. They were dead through the first eight innings of the fourth game against the Yankees. Even though they've got the second-highest payroll in baseball, and even though they were a consensus choice to win the Series way back last spring, these Red Sox somehow found a way to make themselves beloved underdogs.

I don't even care that Curt Schilling endorsed George W. Bush on Good Morning America today. Schilling had a magnificent season, and did exactly what he was brought here to do: win a World Series, even though he risked ending his career.

It also says a lot about this team that even after handing the Cardinals a four-straight pasting, there was no obvious choice for Series MVP. Manny Ramirez was as good a pick as anyone, especially since the Sox spent most of last winter trying to get rid of him.

Given the looming free-agent situation and the possibility that Schilling won't be able to come back, it may be a few years before the Red Sox are in a position to win another one. I don't care. This is a moment many of us have been waiting for all of our lives.

BURIED IN HIS GLOBE T-SHIRT. You might have missed this one, but it's worth sharing. On Tuesday, the Boston Globe published Gloria Negri's obit of Kevin Capelle, a 37-year-old news dealer who was a dwarf. By all means read the entire piece, but the last line is priceless: "In accordance with the family's wishes, the funeral director said, Mr. Capelle will be buried wearing a Boston Globe T-shirt."

SONG OF THE SOUTH. WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) recently broadcast Michael Goldfarb's fine Southern State of Mind documentary, on how the old white South is (and isn't) changing. Of course, the problem with radio programs such as this is that they're never on when you're listening. But you can hear it online right here, as well as check out Goldfarb's photos and observations.

Because I didn't want to sit in front of my computer for an hour, I had to capture the stream on my computer, save it, convert it to a format that my iPod would understand, and then move it over. So here's a suggestion for WBUR's interim general manager, Peter Fiedler: put at least some of 'BUR's content online as MP3 files, as WNYC Radio does with On the Media.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. From the Patriot Act to presidential records, George W. Bush has presided over an unprecedented rise in government secrecy.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

THE SYNTAX OF DEADLY FORCE. Was the death of Victoria Snelgrove a tragic, unforeseeable accident? Or was it the perfectly predictable consequence of the manner in which Boston police responded to the surging crowd outside Fenway Park last Thursday morning? It all comes down to one little word: than. And the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald have gotten it wrong as often as they've gotten it right.

I'm no weapons expert, but I can understand ordinary English. The problem is that the papers have alternately described the pepper-pellet gun that killed Snelgrove as being "less than lethal" and "less lethal," as though they mean the same thing. Not exactly. Not even close. "Less than lethal" means "nonlethal"; there's really no room for interpretation. "Less lethal" means the opposite: "lethal." Less lethal than an Uzi, for sure, but lethal nevertheless.

So which is it? A website known as describes the pellet gun that was used - the FN 303, manufactured by FN Herstal - as "less lethal." The headline of this press release couldn't be more clear: "FNH USA Extends Less Lethal/FN 303 Training Program For 2004." Another law-enforcement site, Tactical Response Magazine Online, refers to "the FN Herstal 303 less-lethal weapon system." A less savory-sounding site, Sniper Country PX, is selling the 303 for $875.50. Here's the come-on: "The FN 303 is designed to be the premier system for situations requiring less lethal response. Completely dedicated to reduced lethality and liability."

The only logical conclusion is that the FN 303 is lethal, only less so than standard-issue police weapons. Yet the Globe and the Herald have seemingly gone out of their way to obfuscate the situation.

Both papers have used the phrases "less lethal" and "less than lethal" almost interchangeably, but the Globe's headlines have been particularly egregious. Last Friday, the paper ran a headline that said "'Nonlethal' Guns Causing Alarm," with a lead that made a generic reference to "less lethal weapons." On Saturday came this headline: "Nonlethal Weapons Draw Praise, Caution." The story even refers to "so-called less-than-lethal munitions." Uh, no, they're actually not so called.

The Herald has been slightly better about sticking with the phrase "less lethal," but on Monday it ran a headline that said "Protesters Demand Ban on 'Less-Than-Lethal' Guns." Columnist Mike Barnicle referred to "less-than-lethal crowd control weapons" on Tuesday. Columnist Peter Gelzinis gets it right today.

As the extent of police irresponsibility becomes clear, the distinction between "less than lethal" and "less lethal" will be crucial. Today's Globe story adds a lot of details about the alleged actions of Deputy Superintendent Robert O'Toole. The Herald is well worth reading, too. Based on what we now know, it seems that police officers fired into a crowd with weapons that they knew, or should have known, could be deadly.

Yes, this was a tragic accident. But it was also one that was entirely predictable.

CALLING ALL LAWYERS! If I were a lawyer for the Kerry campaign, I would be knocking on the door of the Club for Growth right now, demanding to see the model releases for all the elderly folks in this sleazy ad. A full-page version appears in today's New York Times, and the faces are clearly recognizable. Did these people really agree to let their images be used to sell the club's dubious message? I doubt it.

THREE REASONS WHY THE RED SOX HAVE TO WIN TONIGHT. 1) Tim Wakefield in Game Five. A good guy who helped croak the Yankees. But he had a mediocre season and stunk out the joint in Game One against the Cardinals. 2) Curt Schilling in Game Six. Sure, if he does it again, it will be one of the great sports stories of the year - it already is. But do you really want to take the chance that his stitched-up ankle will hold out for another six innings? 3) Pedro Martínez in Game Seven. Pedro can't pitch in the cold. The long-range forecast for Sunday night: 44 degrees.

Go, D-Lowe!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING. I haven't changed my mind about those Boston Herald photos, but I have calmed down. In the interest of offering some additional perspective, I suggest you take a look at Herald business reporter Jay Fitzgerald's blog, in which he offers some characteristically smart, thoughtful comments in guarded support of the Herald's original decision to run the photos.

Letters to Romenesko has a few intelligent comments, as well as a few stupid ones. They're posted in reverse chronological order, so all of the letters come after my response. Herald staffer Tom Mashberg's is particularly good, though I disagree with him.

Last Friday, on Greater Boston's "Beat the Press" media roundtable on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), I was surprised to find myself pretty much alone in asserting that the photos shouldn't have been run. You can watch it here; click on "View Webcast" in the lower left, at your own chosen speed, and make sure your popup blocker has been turned off.

In what may be a first and last, Herald columnist Mike Barnicle and I are on the same side.

Finally, the Boston Globe today has significant new information. According to the report, by Donovan Slack and John Ellement, Deputy Superintendent Robert O'Toole was among four officers who shot pepper pellets into the crowd, which raises questions as to whether that conflicted with his supervisory role. One of those pellets, as we know, killed Victoria Snelgrove.

It also turns out that O'Toole's career had been dealt a huge setback after he roughed up a prisoner on television during the 1986 World Series. He was brought out of the wilderness only last April by the new police commissioner, Kathleen O'Toole, who is not related to him.

POLLING MADNESS. I don't know what it means. You don't know what it means. Nobody knows what it means. But what else do we have?, whose wild swings every day can induce motion sickness, has it Bush 285, Kerry 247 in this morning's state-by-state roundup. But that's mainly because Florida and Ohio have been awarded to Bush, which seems by no means certain.

Slate scores it closer, Bush 276, Kerry 262. The main difference is that Slate thinks Kerry's going to win Ohio.

The Los Angeles Times' do-it-yourself interactive map gives Bush 177 electoral votes and Kerry 153. Sitting in the comfort of your own home, you can add swing states to your guy's column until he reaches the magical 270. If only it were that easy!

The national polls all have the race extremely tight, with Bush generally ahead by a few points. Go to Real Clear Politics for a roundup.

Monday, October 25, 2004

OCTOBER SURPRISE. Of all the arguments in favor of the war in Iraq, one of the strangest is that it's better to fight them over there than over here. Republicans, and George W. Bush himself, have used that line repeatedly. Never, though, do they explain why the turmoil in Iraq somehow renders Al Qaeda incapable of carrying out operations in the United States. Indeed, the chaos we've created is exactly the sort of environment in which terrorists thrive, making it easier for them to hop on a plane to the US rather than harder.

Thus the front page of today's New York Times is filled with the sort of dark, frightening news that points out precisely why the Bush presidency has been such an unmitigated disaster. Fifty Iraqi police recruits have been killed, execution-style. The Zarqawi organization, which now calls itself Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has claimed responsibility, suggesting that the terrorists are growing stronger by the day.

Far, far worse is the news that 380 tons of incredibly dangerous explosives disappeared in Iraq in the aftermath of the American-British invasion. The explosives are of the sort that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and are also useful for triggering a nuclear bomb. Saddam Hussein may not have had weapons of mass destruction, but this stuff is horrifying nevertheless.

What happened? The Times report says:

Officials in Washington said they had no answers to that question. One senior official noted that the Qaqaa complex where the explosives were stored was listed as a "medium priority" site on the Central Intelligence Agency's list of more than 500 sites that needed to be searched and secured during the invasion. "Should we have gone there? Definitely," said one senior administration official.

In the chaos that followed the invasion, however, many of those sites, even some considered a higher priority, were never secured.

Josh Marshall has a ton of supplementary material, drawing mainly from a newsletter called the Nelson Report. Apparently this story has been the subject of rumors in Washington for weeks. Think carefully about Marshall's two key observations, both backed up by evidence:

1. The White House has known about the missing explosives for many months - possibly for a year and a half - and has covered it up all this time, keeping the information not only from the American people but from the International Atomic Energy Agency as well. No doubt it desperately wanted this story not to come out until November 3.

2. The evidence suggests that these very same explosives have already been used against our troops in the form of suicide and terrorist bombings in Iraq.

We've known at least since early summer 2003 that the invasion was poorly planned and sloppily executed. Now we have the first indication that the bungling has cost Americans their lives - eight days before the election.

THE HERALD APOLOGIZES II. Here is the Boston Herald's published apology as it appeared in Saturday's editions.

SLITHERING BELOW GAYDAR. Susan Ryan-Vollmar's got a roundup of how the Bush-Cheney campaign hopes to squeak out a victory by demonizing gay and lesbian voters. You already knew that, but she's got details.

ANONYMOUS SOURCES SAY ... I'm glad that the number of people posting comments to Media Log has been increasing (guess I should whack Jon Stewart more often!), but it has exposed a flaw in's software.

Here's how it works. If you're a registered member of, you can post a comment under your user name or anonymously. But if you're not a registered member (and most people aren't), you can only post anonymously.

A few people have gotten around this by making their name part of their comment. For the most part, though, the comments section is just a sea of anonymous observations, which can be somewhat problematic.

I don't want to turn off the comments feature, but I am pondering the value of all this anonymity.

Friday, October 22, 2004

THE HERALD APOLOGIZES. Editorial director Ken Chandler has issued this statement:

The Herald today published two graphic photos that angered and upset many in our community. For that I apologize. Our aim was to demonstrate this terrible tragedy as comprehensively as possible. In retrospect, the images of this unusually ugly incident were too graphic.

Word is that this will appear in tomorrow's edition as well.

Good. But I'd like to know how Chandler's going to make sure this doesn't happen again.

THE GLOBE, TOO. I confess that I hadn't noticed the Globe's photo of a dying Victoria Snelgrove until I read the comments to my earlier item. I had seen the photo, and had noticed the dreadlocked young man in the foreground. But Snelgrove's sprawled body eluded my not-so-keen eye the first time around. No excuse - all I had to do was read the caption.

It's black-and-white, it's small, and it's not nearly as graphic as either of the two photos that the Herald published. It's also not on the front page. But I wouldn't have run it, and I don't think the Globe should have.

A TABLOID'S NEW LOW. Last April, the Boston Herald published on its front page an Associated Press photo of the charred body of an American contractor who had been killed in Fallujah. It was an eminently newsworthy picture. Yet so deeply ingrained is the unwritten rule that you don't show photos of dead bodies that the caption said the image had been darkened so the poor man's features would be obscured.

Today, the Herald has a large, page-one color photo of Victoria Snelgrove, bloody and dying on a sidewalk outside Fenway Park, the victim of what appears to be a horrible accidental shooting by police amid the chaos and violence that took place early Thursday morning. (And no, I'm not going to link to it. Thank you for asking.) The headline: "Triumph and Tragedy." I guess the message is that it's too bad the 21-year-old Emerson College student got killed, but hey, baby, the Sox are going to the Series! Indeed, there's a "Go Sox!" teaser right above the picture.

On page four is an even more graphic photo of Snelgrove, eyes closed, her face covered with blood, as another woman checks her vital signs. At least it's in black-and-white.

What is going on here? I'm a believer in using graphic photos; I think it's safe to say that I'd go farther than a lot of people. But this doesn't add to our understanding of what happened in any way. We already know what happened: Torie Snelgrove was shot in the eye by a marble-sized projectile containing pepper spray. It happened at a moment when police officers no doubt had legitimate fears that the situation was about to spin completely out of control, as the Herald's Dave Wedge describes in pretty compelling language.

This was a terrible accident; as Kevin Cullen and Heather Allen report in today's Boston Globe, if the young woman had been hit in any part of her body other than her eye, she wouldn't have been killed. We learn absolutely nothing from the photos other than the fact that the Herald in this instance has lost all sense of decency and proportion.

How bad is this? This morning on Dennis & Callahan, on WEEI Radio (AM 850), Gerry Callahan, who writes a column for the Herald and who is not exactly known for his squeamishness or taste, refused to defend the paper when challenged by John Dennis.

The Herald has posted numerous reactions from its readers. "Outraged," "disgraceful," "shocked and appalled," "extremely troubled," "disgusted," "horrified," "thoughtless," "gratuitious and offensive," "sensationalism," and "despicable" are just some of the words and phrases that are used.

I am well aware of counterarguments in favor of running graphic photos, even of death. Years ago the Boston Herald American took an enormous amount of criticism for a Stanley Forman photo of a woman and her goddaughter plunging from a faulty fire escape; the adult died, the child survived. Forman's picture wound up winning a Pulitzer, and it played a role in improving the safety of such fire escapes. Photos of the bodies of American soldiers being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, and of a streetside execution in Vietnam, drew similar criticism, but those were obviously newsworthy.

For the past couple of years, media folks have been debating whether and how much to depict of the beheadings and other executions carried out by terrorists - a debate that the Phoenix has found itself right in the middle of. Serious people can differ, but on this they would agree: there's an inherent newsworthiness to the evil acts of people with whom we are at war that is entirely lacking from the photos of a dying Victoria Snelgrove.

I'm predicting an apology by Herald publisher Pat Purcell - but even if I'm right, that's not good enough. For the past year-and-a-half, his once-respectable tabloid has been getting racier and more offensive by the week. There are times when I think it's settling down - and then something like this happens. The paper's got some damn good reporters and photographers (the photos of Snelgrove were not taken by a Herald photog). But, under editorial director Ken Chandler, the paper has shown absolutely no controls to prevent itself from stumbling into situations like this. An apology will be meaningless unless this comes with some sort of real assurance that this won't happen again.

Meanwhile, Media Log anxiously awaits Joe Fitzgerald's take on this horrendous breakdown of any sense of journalistic ethics.

(Note: This item has been updated.)

Thursday, October 21, 2004

UNBELIEVABLE! What an amazing, stunning, wonderful week this has been. I watched bits and pieces of the Red Sox' "Impossible Dream" season in 1967. I distinctly remember Game Six of the 1975 World Series, perhaps the greatest baseball game ever, and Game Six of the '86 Series, certainly the all-time worst on a long list for Sox fans. And, of course, there was last year's Game Seven, number-two on the list.

I have nothing to say beyond that, other than what hundreds and thousands of others are saying. I just thought you'd enjoy the back page of today's New York Post, along with this piece on New York's newest villain: Alex Rodriguez, the Greatest Shortstop of All Time, the guy who almost came to Boston and who is now a distinctly mediocre third baseman for the Yankees.

Not to mention a poor sport and a crybaby.

JOE FITZ, MEDIA CRITIC. If you're like most people, you may be surprised to learn that Joe Fitzgerald still writes a column (free this week) for the Boston Herald. The former sportswriter's sleepy compendium of religious pieties and gay-bashing isn't exactly a must-read.

Yesterday, Fitzgerald turned his keenly honed moral eye to the Boston Globe, which, he claimed, had done something truly repellant: this past Tuesday the Globe mentioned in a front-page subhead the fact that Joe Nee, a just-arrested 18-year-old suspect in the Marshfield "Natural Born Killers" case, is the son of Boston Police Patrolmen's Association president Tom Nee.

"What did this father's job have to do with his kid's alleged offense? How were the two in any way connected, let alone worthy of such attention?," asked the shocked, shocked Joe Fitz in a column headlined "Globe's Headline Hit Way Below the Belt."

Now, let me back up for a moment. I've been troubled by the way both dailies (not to mention other media outlets) have handled this story. The Globe actually led the paper with it on October 7, the day after authorities revealed they had arrested Tobin Kerns, 16, on charges that he had planned to kill eight teachers and students at Marshfield High School in a plot reminiscent of the Columbine killings.

Granted, you never know until something horrible actually happens, but it struck me then - and still does - that the Globe and the Herald have both overplayed the story, given the high likelihood that Kerns is guilty of little more than having an unusually disturbing fantasy life. The primary fault lies with law-enforcement officials, who should have quietly insisted on this kid getting help rather than turning him into a poster boy for school violence. Still, the papers shouldn't have played along.

Okay, now, back to the scene of the crime, as it were. It turns out that the first newspaper to mention Joe Nee's name in connection with this case was - yes! - the Herald. Way back on October 7, the Herald reported:

Benjamin Kerns [the suspect's father] and other sources said one of the other members of Kern's group is Joe Nee, the son of Boston police union President Thomas Nee. Numerous attempts to contact Thomas Nee were unsuccessful.

However, a source said Nee was one of a group of kids "hanging around saying, 'Wouldn't it be cool to blow up the high school?'"

But "once they realized [Kerns] was serious, they went to authorities."

Here is what the Globe reported the same day:

[Benjamin] Kerns said that ... his son had associated with three male friends from school and that the group may have discussed plans for a violent act, but he didn't think the youths would have carried out the plan. And he said one of the other three youths was the ringleader, not his son....

Kerns identified the teenager who he said was the mastermind, but the Globe is withholding that identity because the youth has not been charged. That youth's father declined to comment last night.

Uh, Professor Fitzgerald, who do you think was leading the journalistic ethics battle at that point?

In his column yesterday, Fitzgerald hangs his hat on the fact that the Globe stuck Joe Nee's father in its headline, whereas the Herald merely gave it a "mention" in its story. (Actually, three mentions, including a story with this lead: "The teen son of the Boston police union head showed a handgun to a classmate near Marshfield High School and showed another a hit list of people 'they were going to kill,' prosecutors said.")

I'm sure Fitzgerald knows all this, which is why he was clever enough to restrict his criticism to the Globe's headline. For good measure, he also threw in a few of the Herald's past journalistic sins, just to make sure everyone knew that of course he wasn't singling out the Globe. But his selective presentation of the facts was, needless to say, fundamentally dishonest.

As this story moves forward, I hope both papers, as well as other news orgs, stop salivating over handouts from prosecutors and start showing proper skepticism about this story.

But Joe Fitz's take on the Globe's subhead is ludicrous. He might have a point if Joe Nee's arrest had gotten more attention than it should have simply because Nee has a well-known father. But that's obviously not the case given how much coverage this story has been getting all along.

The real concern is that the media's overheated coverage could end up damaging the lives and prospects of at least two troubled young men. In that context, the headline about Tom Nee was irrelevant.

READ THIS. Former Phoenix news editor Susan Ryan-Vollmar has started a blog "about motherhood, politics, and gay marriage." Last night she posted a dispiriting item about a meeting she attended on Boston's school-assignment plans. Her conclusion: "When I came home from the meeting, I gave Mrs. SRV a summary and, just one year after buying our house in Boston, we had our first serious discussion about moving out of the city."

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Dick Cheney's reputation is that of "the evil genius." His record at Halliburton, though, reveals him to be nothing more than a corrupt, incompetent hack.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

COLD COMFORT. Keeping their Sox on atop Mount Washington at 7:31 this morning.

MORE ON STEWART. CNET's got a good piece by Matt Hines on the Net's fastest-growing phenomenon - Jon Stewart's appearance on Crossfire. "The volume of downloads outpaced CNN's recent ratings numbers for the actual show," Hines writes, which isn't exactly a surprise.

Hines also describes Crossfire as a "hit" in its current 4:30 p.m. time slot, reporting that it drew an average audience of 615,000 during the month of September. I guess it all depends on your point of reference. The three network newscasts draw between 20 million and 30 million viewers depending on the news, and National Public Radio's All Things Considered has about 10 million listeners. Just trying to put into perspective Stewart's accusation that Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson are personally dragging down the level of political discourse.

Meanwhile, Media Log reader C.P. suggests a useful expansion of my comment yesterday that "I know Carlson a little, and he's not a dick, although I'll admit that he often plays one on television." So here's a reminder about how Carlson earlier this year dismissed John Edwards's representation of a little girl whose intestines were sucked out by faulty swimming pool motor as a "Jacuzzi" case - and of how he kept returning to that theme over and over even after the record had been set straight.

Disgusting and shameless, to say the least. C.P.'s point: If you play a dick long enough, you eventually become a dick.

THIS IS HILARIOUS. The only thing missing from this fantasy is Christopher Reeve rising from the dead and walking again. (Thanks, Bill.)

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

MEDIA LOG IN THE CROSSFIRE! I've never written anything for Media Log that has generated as many comments - okay, attacks - as my Saturday post on Jon Stewart's Crossfire appearance. (The comments begin at the end of the item.) "Did you even watch the show?" asked one. A: Yes, and I read the transcript, too. "Man, Stewart does everything but build a 4-lane highway to his point and you still miss it," said another. About the kindest it got was this: "Dan, you're usually very insightful, but you missed the point here completely."

I haven't changed my mind, but I do have some additional thoughts that might help put this in perspective. I yield to no one in my admiration of Stewart and The Daily Show - something I made crystal clear on Saturday. But that doesn't mean I have to like what he did on Crossfire. To wit:

1. Stewart picked the wrong targets. By directly challenging Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, the hosts of a tired old show that no one watches, Stewart came off - as I said earlier - as something of a bully and a bore. That doesn't mean Stewart has to shut up unless he can wangle an invitation onto Meet the Press. (And wouldn't it be sweet to see him get in Tim Russert's face?) It does mean that Stewart would have been better served by criticizing the mainstream media in general, even to the point of asking Begala and Carlson whether they agreed with him, and to join with him. Not that they would have, but so what?

2. Stewart needs to be more self-aware. By offering serious media criticism, and then throwing up his hands and saying, in effect, "Hey, I'm just a comedian" every time Carlson took him on, Stewart came off as slippery and disingenuous. Sorry, Jon, but you can't interview Bill Clinton, Richard Clarke, Bill O'Reilly, Bob Dole, etc., etc., and still say you're just a comedian. The Daily Show is a hybrid, and a brilliant one at that. Yes, it's funny, but it's also truer than most real news shows, which is one of the reasons that people watch it. Stop pretending otherwise.

3. Stewart endangered the franchise. By stepping out of character the way he did, Stewart runs the risk of being seen as less of an inspired subversive and more of an activist with an agenda he's trying to push. In another context, this would be known as being willing to spend one's political capital, and I suppose there's something admirable about it. But his single most important contribution to the culture (sorry for the pomposity, but I don't think I'm overstating it) is as host of The Daily Show. If he starts taking himself too seriously, then he's just another Bill Maher - not a bad thing, but a lot less unique. We can all see exactly what Stewart and company think of the mainstream media every night, and they make their point a lot more effectively than Stewart did last Friday.

4. Stewart became what he criticized. Everyone's favorite moment was when Stewart called Carlson "a dick." (For the record, I know Carlson a little, and he's not a dick, although I'll admit that he often plays one on television.) Quite a closing for someone who had just spent an entire interview lamenting the confrontational nature of political talk shows. Yes, I know, he was also criticizing how stupid and predictable they are. Well, calling someone "a dick" may not be predictable, but it's definitely stupid.

Over at Slate, Dana Stevens loved Stewart's outburst, calling it a "searing moment of lucidity." Well, I'll concede that it was that, too. Meanwhile, keep those e-mails coming.

Monday, October 18, 2004

THE "L" WORD. It's not "liberal"! Like most sane observers, I've been puzzled and disheartened by the apparent success the Bush-Cheney campaign is having over the issue of John Kerry's mentioning Dick and Lynne Cheney's lesbian daughter, Mary.

I thought Kerry's invocation of the Cheneys during last week's debate was awkward and perhaps unnecessary; John Edwards handled it better in his debate with Dick Cheney, probably because he was talking to Dad, not about him. But never would I have dreamed that the Republicans could score points by referring to Kerry's "cheap and tawdry political trick," as noted lesbian-romance novelist Lynne Cheney did last week.

Now Paul Johnson, of, reports that the furious Republican response may be have been the brainchild of M-Che herself. Johnson writes:

Sources close to the Bush-Cheney campaign tell that the idea came up in a telephone call between Mary and her parents immediately after the presidential debate Wednesday night.

The younger Cheney, who serves as a backroom advisor to her father, suggested that she would continue to be a "issue" for Democrats unless something was done to stop it immediately.

If Johnson is right, then the temptation is to call this perhaps the ultimate in self-loathing, but I'm not going to go there. Even though she used to work as the liaison to the gay-and-lesbian community for Coors, and even though she has a prominent position in her father's campaign, Mary Cheney is known to value her privacy. She may have genuinely been getting sick and tired of hearing the Democrats drop her name every time the issue of same-sex marriage came up. Still, her parents' rhetoric suggests they are still not comfortable with their daughter's sexual orientation.

What's truly weird about this is that the Cheneys and other Republicans have gotten away with practically accusing Kerry of outing a openly lesbian adult who is also a public figure. The Democrats must feel like the Red Sox getting flogged by the Yankees once again: How do they do it? Adam Nagourney has an idea in today's New York Times:

In Mr. Kerry's mind, he was stating a well-known fact. Ms. Cheney is openly gay, and her father mentioned it at one of his rallies before the Republican convention. More significant, calling someone a lesbian in this era is hardly an insult in Mr. Kerry's mind, his advisers said.

But to listen to conservative radio shows, or to talk to voters since the debate, it is clear that not everyone shares Mr. Kerry's view. Even some Democrats said that many viewers thought either that Mr. Kerry was outing Ms. Cheney, or that calling someone a lesbian was a schoolyard insult, a bit of behavior that was unseemly for a presidential candidate.

The Incomparable One agrees, writing:

Some of you still don't understand why we've said that this comment was stupid. It was stupid because John Kerry is running for president, and has to get people to vote for him. And, however enlightened you may be about this, the American electorate does not share your outlook. Almost surely, Kerry is losing votes because of this ill-advised comment.

In an election as close as this one is likely to be, any little thing can make a difference. Four years ago, Al Gore may very well have lost (well, not "lost," but you know what I mean) because the media falsely and repeatedly quoted him as saying he had "invented the Internet."

Wouldn't it be something if Kerry loses because he said the word "lesbian"? Does anyone think it's even remotely as important as the deaths of 1101 American troops in Iraq?

NOT SO SWIFT. Last Friday, Media Log received intelligence that Ted Koppel had let swift-boat liar John O'Neill run wild on Nightline the night before. I did not have a chance to check it out, but Somerby, as usual, has all the ugly details.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

STEWART IN THE CROSSFIRE. Media Log has received several e-mails urging me to look at Jon Stewart's getting-more-famous-by-the-minute appearance on CNN's Crossfire yesterday, and asking me what I make of it. Frankly, not much. In taking down hosts Paul Begala and especially Tucker Carlson, Stewart offered some sharp criticism of the mainstream media and political discourse - criticisms with which I largely agree. But Stewart seems not to realize his own place in the modern media firmament.

Stewart's Daily Show does enormous numbers for cable; a recent appearance by Bill Clinton drew a reported 1.9 million viewers. The crew has a bestselling book, America (The Book). Stewart's on the cover of Rolling Stone. By contrast, Crossfire is a dying show based on a dying paradigm. (At least I'd like to think so, although Fox's detestable Hannity & Colmes would seem to suggest otherwise.) Moved out of its prime-time slot last year, Crossfire is now seen at 4:30 p.m. by an audience that is somewhere around 500,000 people - few of them in the prime youth demographic that watches Stewart.

Despite this power imbalance, Stewart's attitude during his Crossfire appearance was that he was the little guy, standing up for what is good and true against the big, bad mainstream media in the persons of Carlson and Begala. Look at what he said every time he was challenged:

If you want to compare your show to a comedy show, you're more than welcome to....

You know, it's interesting to hear you talk about my responsibility.... I didn't realize that - and maybe this explains quite a bit ... is that the news organizations look to Comedy Central for their cues on integrity....

You're on CNN. The show that leads into me is puppets making crank phone calls.

Yes, Stewart made some serious points about the deleterious effect of shouting-head shows such as Crossfire. But every time Carlson tried to defend himself, he pulled his Hey-I'm-just-a-comedian shtick. The fact is, it's Jon Stewart who is the 500-pound gorilla. He's already won. Far from speaking truth to power, his appearance was akin to the victor coming in and shooting the wounded.

Look at this Annenberg Center survey on how knowledgeable Daily Show viewers are about politics. The Daily Show may be a comedy program, but it's more politically savvy than anything else on television, and Stewart's interviews with political figures are uncommonly insightful and civilized.

No doubt Stewart thought he was performing a public service yesterday. The truth is that he does that every Monday through Thursday at 11 p.m. Yesterday, he was just a bore and a bully.

Friday, October 15, 2004

FISH IN A BARREL. As these quotes suggest, Bill O'Reilly is no hypocrite. The closest I could come was his hilarious comment about "respect" for one's partner. Even so, his past utterances on matters of the flesh look pretty damn entertaining right now, don't they?

Monica Lewinsky is going to be up there on the stand, if the trial happens, describing salacious acts. That's going to be cleansing? I'm going to need a shower after that. - The O'Reilly Factor, 12/28/98

O'Reilly's prescriptions on sex are thoroughly modern and in strong contradiction to his strict Catholic upbringing. One of the book's surprises is the revelation that he is definitely no social conservative, as most viewers of his TV show might falsely conclude. Abstinence is "intrustive and ridiculous ... Use protection. Make dead sure that no one else is going to be hurt by this encounter. Respect your partner before and after." - Dale Steinreich, 2/2/00

This is not about a bare breast. If Janet Jackson wants to flash, she can come on over to my office anytime. I'll leave the door unlocked for you, Janet. Partial nudity's no big deal except when it is totally out of context and youngsters are watching. Get it? That's sleazy. - The O'Reilly Factor, 2/3/04

The message here is that American society really doesn't care how anyone behaves and that some in corporate America will reward tawdry behavior all day long. Believe me, this situation is not lost on children. They see Monica scoring in the media, and they know exactly how the play was made. - O'Reilly's syndicated column, 5/3/03

Thursday, October 14, 2004

ADVICE TO PRESIDENT BUSH. Vigorous hand-washing should be enough, but you might want a tetanus shot just to be sure. And by the way, the New York Daily News account doesn't stint on many of the details. Highly recommended!

BLACK CAUCUS FOLLOW-UP. Kerry did blow it on the Congressional Black Caucus, according to this analysis by Some of this stuff, though, is nitpicking and even a little misleading. For instance:

  • "Kerry wrongly claimed Bush 'hasn't met with the Black Congressional Caucus.' He garbled the organization's name, for one thing. It's actually the Congressional Black Caucus, made up of 39 African-American members of the House." Well, excuse me!
  • "Kerry twice claimed 1.6 million jobs have been lost under Bush, which is 1 million too high." Actually, Kerry meant to say that 1.6 million private-sector jobs have been lost. FactCheck is being accurate but misses the point.
  • "Kerry claimed Bush 'has taken a $5.6 trillion surplus and turned it into deficits as far as the eye can see.' But the country never actually had a $5.6 trillion surplus. The projected surplus Kerry was referring to was a 10-year figure that was already made dubious by a weakening economy and a pent-up Congressional urge to spend. The largest annual surplus actually realized was $236 billion in fiscal year 2000, which ended a month before Bush was elected." This is wrong? Not by my accounting.

In theory, truth-testing the candidates' claims is a great idea. In practice, it's surprising what a subjective exercise it really is.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. What's next for WBUR Radio (90.9 FM)?

VOTERS TO BUSH: WE'VE SEEN ENOUGH. The third and final presidential debate was the only one in which John Kerry and George W. Bush came across as stylistic and substantive equals. And yet the immediate post-debate polls show that the public believes Kerry beat Bush decisively last night. That might mean that viewers genuinely like what Kerry is saying more than they like Bush's pronouncements. Or it might mean that, nearly four years after they didn't actually elect him president, the voters are sick and tired of Bush. Whatever, it's certainly not good news for Republicans.

Not to rely too heavily on polls (hah!), but Gallup this morning - so recently flogged by liberals for polling samples that seemed to skew Republican - reports that the registered voters it surveyed thought Kerry won last night's debate by a margin of 52 percent to 39 percent. That's nearly as wide a gap as Gallup recorded after the first debate, which was a disaster for Bush.

CBS News's survey of uncommitted voters found that Kerry beat Bush by 39 percent to 25 percent.

ABC News had it 42 percent Kerry, 41 percent Bush; but though I can't find a reference to it on the ABC website this morning, the network reported last night that its sample comprised 38 percent Republicans and 30 percent Democrats, so award Kerry at least another two or three points.

This sounds like a country looking for a new president, does it not? If Kerry can keep running an error-free, forward-looking campaign, then he ought to win this thing. A few days ago even Jay Severin, a right-wing talk-show host on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), predicted Kerry would win if the final polls show him within a few points of Bush, since undecideds tend to break heavily against the incumbent. Offensive though Severin's rhetoric may be, he does know a few things about politics. Add to that the vigorous voter-registration efforts that Democratic-aligned groups have been conducted in swing states, and it looks like Kerry's got more going for him than Bush does at this point.

You may have noticed that I'm staying away from the debate itself. True! Rhetorically, I thought it was a little flat. There really weren't any lines or attacks or assertions that really stood out as transformative or even particularly interesting. I did think that Kerry was reasonably effective in continually pushing the line that the richest one percent of Americans received $89 billion because of Bush's tax cut last year, while (take your pick) Social Security, after-school programs, and health-care needs go unfunded. Bush seemed especially pathetic on the assault-weapons ban. And he came off as petulant and petty after Kerry observed that two network newscasts had concluded that Bush's critique of Kerry's health plan was "fiction" and "untrue." Said Bush: "In all due respect, I'm not so sure it's credible to quote leading news organizations about - oh, never mind."

As for factual screw-ups, Kerry's pronouncement that Bush had never met with the Congressional Black Caucus turned out not to be true. That strikes me as potentially dangerous, although I'm waiting for further word on a tip I received this morning from Media Log reader W.R. Apparently NPR reported that Bush only met with the CBC after members showed up at the White House uninvited and demanded that he meet with them. So this one could bounce back in Bush's face.

The biggest screw-up of the night, though, goes to Bush. His and Dick Cheney's sloppy rhetoric about Kerry's supposed wimpiness toward terrorism has been a consistent theme of the campaign. In the past few days, and last night, Bush has been ripping Kerry for suggesting that terrorism ought to be approached like organized crime and brought down to a manageable level - never mind that that sounds rather like Bush's remarks to Matt Lauer a few months ago, in which he said it may not be possible actually to "win" the war against terrorism.

Well, last night Kerry criticized Bush for once having minimized the threat posed by Osama bin Laden - and Bush, falsely, denied it. I'll let Slate's Chris Suellentrop pick up the play-by-play:

Just as it took Al Gore three debates to settle on the right tone during the 2000 campaign, President Bush figured out in his third face-off with John Kerry how to be neither too hot nor too cold. But Kerry was as good as he can be, too, and more important, what good the president did with his performance will be overshadowed Thursday when the TV networks spend the entire day running video clips of him saying of Osama Bin Laden on March 13, 2002, "I truly am not that concerned about him."

By denying that he had ever minimized the threat posed by Bin Laden, Bush handed Kerry, during the very first question, the victory in the post-debate spin. The Kerry campaign's critique of the president is that he has doesn't tell the truth, that he won't admit mistakes, and that he refuses to acknowledge reality. Bush's answer played into all three claims.

This morning, at least, I'd rather be Bob Shrum than Karl Rove.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

OH. MY. GOD. Just for the record, Media Log has absolutely no opinion as to the truthfulness of this sexual-harassment complaint filed against Fox News loudmouth Bill O'Reilly. But the Smoking Gun, which has got the whole thing posted, understates matters by calling it merely "an incredible page-turner."

I am also intrigued by the Gun's speculation that "[b]ased on the extensive quotations cited in the complaint, it appears a safe bet that [Andrea] Mackris, 33, recorded some of O'Reilly's more steamy soliloquies." Well, if there's a God in heaven, she did. Let's be cautious, though - according to this AP account, O'Reilly's trying to get Mackris to turn over whatever tapes she has. Of course, that could be just typical O'Reilly bravado.

By all means read the whole thing. Meanwhile, I think I'll try to catching the opening minutes of The Factor tonight.

WBUR NAMES INTERIM GM. Two days before WBUR Radio general manager Jane Christo officially leaves, Boston University has announced that Peter Fiedler - the son of the late Boston Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler - will replace her on an interim basis. The text of the announcement is as follows:

BOSTON - Boston University today announced that Peter Fiedler will be the interim general manager of WBUR-FM. Fiedler met with station managers today and will begin work immediately.

"Sitting down with staff members will be my top priority," said Fiedler, who will oversee the day-to-day operations of the station during the search for a permanent general manager. "I want to hear from employees at all levels of the operation as we work on strengthening one of the top public radio stations in the country."

Fiedler began his 25-year media career in television production at WCVB-TV, the ABC affiliate in Boston, where he held a variety of positions including unit manager and field producer/director. He provided creative production and direction to an interactive video startup in 1984. He then became Vice President and General Manager for Target Productions and then served as Director of Operations for Channel 68 in Boston. Fiedler currently oversees sports broadcasting, media services, publications and the classroom upgrade technology program as an assistant vice president at Boston University.

Fiedler, who lives with his wife and three children in Boxford, is the son of legendary Boston Pops Conductor Arthur Fiedler and remains actively involved in the annual 4th of July concert on the Esplanade.

The two most significant pieces of news here, I think, are that (1) Fiedler was named so quickly (in an interview with the Phoenix this week, for an item that will be published tomorrow, BU spokeswoman Nancy Sterling suggested the interim GM might not be named until next week); and (2) Christo will be replaced not by one of her own underlings, but rather by someone with significant broadcast experience who's now in an executive position at BU.

The Channel 68 background is interesting as well. During the 1990s, BU acquired the station and attempted to turn it into a news-and-public-affairs channel. You might say the university tried to emulate what Christo had accomplished at WBUR and failed (the station is now owned by the family-friendly PAX chain), although that would be unfair, since Channel 68 had nothing like National Public Radio to rely on for a good share of its programming.

Among the folks who passed through Channel 68 were Charles Adler, now a talk-shot host at CJOB Radio, in Winnipeg, as well as two hosts who moved on to prominent slots at WBUR: Ted O'Brien (now at BU) and Delores Handy-Brown.