Tuesday, November 30, 2004

DEAN OF RADIO. I would describe Dean Johnson's radio column in the Boston Herald every Friday as indispensable, but I guess that would be technically inaccurate. Because Media Log has learned that the Herald's editors have decided it's very much dispensable. Johnson, a longtime Herald staffer who also covers comedy and other entertainment-related stories, will continue to write for the arts pages. But his radio column is no more.

Johnson declined to comment, but he's got plenty of readers. Radio is a specialty beat - the Globe's radio column is written by a freelancer, Clea Simon - and I suppose you could make the case that it's less interesting now that every station in the country is owned by two giant media conglomerates. (I exaggerate only slightly.) Still, Johnson's take was authoritative, and it was certainly one I always looked forward to.

"Personally, I think this is outrageous - his radio column was one of the best; he also wrote about pop culture and reviewed various shows for the Herald, always objective and always fair. If something was happening in media in Boston, Dean was on top of it. For him to be treated this way after 20 years is blatantly unfair," e-mails a radio junkie and Media Log reader.

Herald managing editor Kevin Convey is playing this as a better-for-everyone proposition, e-mailing, "Very, simply, we're interested in covering radio on a breaking basis rather than on a once-weekly basis. We want Dean, with his long history and wealth of contacts in the business, to translate the effort he put into the column into daily coverage. Hence, the column goes. But our hope is that Dean will be in the paper with news of the industry on a much more regular basis now."

That sounds like more-Dean-on-radio, but will it shake out that way? Yes, there's breaking news when there's turmoil, such as Jane Christo's recent resignation as general manager of WBUR (90.9 FM), or scandal, such as the mind-boggling story of Brad Bleidt and WBIX (AM 1060). Other than that, though, is there really much breaking news in radio? I want Johnson's perspective even when there isn't news breaking.

FREE SPEECH ON CAMPUS. The US Court of Appeals struck a blow for free speech yesterday by prohibiting the Pentagon from enforcing the Solomon Amendment, which requires law schools to allow military recruiters on campus as a condition of receiving federal funds.

Last Fourth of July the Phoenix bestowed one of its annual Muzzle Awards on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld for his vigorous enforcement of the Solomon Amendment. (Click here, scroll to the bottom, and click on "page 6.")

The issue is pretty basic. The military discriminates against lesbians and gay men through its "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Other employers that discriminate are not allowed on campus.

Although I wish the military would stop discriminating, I also wish colleges and universities would voluntarily allow recruiters from any organization to exercise their free-speech rights on campus. But the Solomon Amendment was coercion, and we should all be glad that the court recognized it as such.

Monday, November 29, 2004

CORRECTION. A red-faced Media Log is reliably informed that the Patrick Healy who wrote today's front-page New York Times article is not the guy who's leaving the Boston Globe. And to think that all I had to do was this.

DOLLARS AND SENSE AT WBUR. A business-consulting firm will begin setting up shop today at WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) in an effort to bring the Boston University-owned station's runaway costs under control.

Grant Thornton - whose clients include New Balance - will "review and [make] recommendations related to station operations, business office functions (including accounting, budgeting, and reporting), and personnel procedures and staffing patterns," according to a staff memo by the station's interim general manager, Peter Fiedler. Media Log obtained a copy of Fiedler's memo just before Thanksgiving.

The complete text of Fiedler's memo is as follows:

Dear Colleagues,

As I begin my sixth week at WBUR, I would like to share a number of my observations and some important developments taking place at the station.

As you all know by now, I have been holding individual meetings with members of the staff. These interviews have helped me learn a great deal about WBUR and understand the views and concerns of the staff in a relatively short time frame. I've quickly found that there is a very steep learning curve required for this job, and I'd like to thank all members of the WBUR community who have generously and candidly shared their viewpoints with me. I encourage WBUR staff members who have not yet met with me to please do so. Marinela Misho will assist you to find a mutually convenient time.

On Monday, November 29, consultants from Grant Thornton, a highly regarded national business consulting firm, will begin their work at the station. The Grant Thornton team will be located in the small conference room next to the general manager's office. Grant Thornton's focus will be on the administrative components of the WBUR Group. This will include, but is not limited to, review and recommendations related to station operations, business office functions (including accounting, budgeting, and reporting), and personnel procedures and staffing patterns. In addition, Grant Thornton will analyze fundraising systems and procedures, as well as other revenue streams including donations, grants and contracts, and underwriting. Grant Thornton will not be advising management on the type or format of programs currently being produced by WBUR. Their charge is to review systems, procedures, and management information processes to help establish a plan to improve station operations.

During the course of their assignment, members of the Grant Thornton team may ask to interview selected members of the WBUR staff in order to gain additional insight and to understand the context of station operations. My principal objective over the course of the next few months will be to concentrate on developing an appropriate framework that will support the core mission of the WBUR Group. As you may know, I have already decided to discontinue the Citizens of the World travel program. After careful analysis, it is apparent that the travel program does not adequately contribute to the support of our core mission of broadcasting programs of the highest quality. I intend to continue a systematic review of other station-related functions and activities to be sure they focus on maintaining our nationally recognized programming efforts and positively contribute to that end.

Although we are making progress toward examining station finances and identifying areas in which we can move forward, it is important to note that advances for WBUR will not be accomplished without some dislocation. A fiscally responsible plan will ultimately require us to prioritize activities and invest only in those that contribute to our principal mission. I am working closely with departments at Boston University to take advantage of existing central resources, such as assistance with purchasing, and to ensure that the most efficient and beneficial actions are undertaken during this period of transition.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any suggestions or questions, or if I can be of any assistance to you. I wish to thank each member of the WBUR community for your understanding and support during this time, and for the warm reception you have given me. It has made my work considerably more pleasurable. I hope you and your families have an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.

Peter Fiedler Assistant Vice President & Interim General Manager WBUR-FM 90.9 890 Commonwealth Avenue Boston, MA

Fielder's memo looks like good news for the station's staff and listeners. Rather than taking a chainsaw to programming, Fielder appears committed to managing his way out of the millions of dollars in debt left behind by longtime general manager Jane Christo, whom Fielder replaced on October 8.

The fear remains that Christo built up WBUR's programming beyond the station's capacity to support itself, especially in the post-dot-com '00s.

THE DEDHAM TORTURE CONNECTION. Farah Stockman has a truly odd story in today's Boston Globe about a Dedham law firm that's being used for cover with respect to a private plane linked to US-sanctioned torture operations.

FRONT-PAGE HEALY. Just-departed Globe reporter Patrick Healy has his first front-page story in the New York Times - a piece on rising tensions on Long Island between largely white communities and Hispanic day workers, many of whom are in the US illegally. [Whoops - wrong Healy. See correction.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

MY THOUGHTS EXACTLY. Given the ongoing trantrum over my remark that charges of Dan Rather's liberal bias are "ridiculous," let me refer you to Mr. Alterman today, whose thoughts on Rather parallel my own. Alterman's got as much sympathy for Rather as I do, which is to say none. And here is Bryan Curtis's must-read from Slate, published in September. Curtis's diagnosis: it's not that Rather is a liberal, it's that he's barking mad.

DEPT. OF CLARIFICATION. I ran into a very smart person earlier today who told me she thought I'd written that the Boston Globe should have published Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff's op-ed on how wonderful everything is with the Big Dig. Here's what I wrote. And to clarify: no, no, no, no, no.

If Bechtel/Parsons had submitted a letter, I'm sure the Globe would have run it. That's all the company is entitled to. If newspapers opened up their op-ed pages to every person or institution that feels aggrieved by negative reporting, there wouldn't be room for anything else.

Hey, Bechtel: things don't look so hot in this photo, do they?

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Seth Mnookin's book on the New York Times shows how an editor's narcissism nearly destroyed the world's greatest newspaper.

NOT THE FIRST TIME. Okay, I stand corrected on my "What is the frequency, Kenneth?" crack about Dan Rather yesterday. Today, though, I want to share something I stumbled across recently while doing some research for the media-law class I teach at Northeastern University.

You might think that basing a high-profile investigative report on phony documents would be a once-in-a-career event - mainly because afterwards you wouldn't have a career to go back to. But it turns out that the fiasco over George W. Bush's National Guard documents was not the first time Dan Rather had treaded into such troubled waters.

I quote from an article in the March 1989 issue of the Quill that was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Clark F. Mollenhoff and William Swislow. The article was a harsh critique of Times v. Sullivan, the landmark 1964 Supreme Court decision that, the authors argued, was a license for media irresponsibility. The Quill is published by the Society of Professional Journalists. If you're not familiar with the case, you may want to sit down for this:

The case of Dr. Carl A. Galloway against CBS, which the doctor lost, represents one of the worst cases of a miscarriage of justice under Sullivan's permissiveness. (And it should be noted here that I [Note: I'm not sure whether "I" refers to Mollenhoff or Swislow] testified as an expert witness in the case on Galloway's behalf.)

In a 60 Minutes program in December 1979, Galloway, a private Los Angeles medical doctor, was portrayed as a dishonest physician who had signed a false medical report on an insurance claim. Such an act would have been a violation of California law and a serious violation of medical ethics.

In fact, Galloway's name had been forged on the medical report that CBS displayed in the 60 Minutes program. Neither CBS correspondent Dan Rather nor the producer had reached the doctor in the several months the program was in production. The signature wasn't verified by a handwriting expert before the show was aired, and no attempt was made to reach Galloway with a registered letter or similar means. Galloway's effort to obtain a correction was rejected by CBS officials, although his demand for a retraction included signed affidavits by workers at the clinic saying that Galloway had not been involved with the false report.

He then sued.

CBS discharged its original law firm in the case after a representative of the firm told the judge in a pretrial session that its handwriting expert had concluded that Galloway's signature had been forged.

Logic would suggest that Galloway had won the crucial point about the falsity of a program that had stated flatly he had signed the false report.

But CBS officials continued to stand by the broadcast.

Galloway testified that he never received any report that CBS or Rather were trying to contact him, although other testimony said Rather and the story's producer had both left messages at Galloway's own office. Galloway also admitted during testimony that he learned the day of the Rather visit that 60 Minutes had been at the clinic.

Galloway said he had left the clinic more than a month before the 60 Minutes report and that his only connection with the clinic had been to conduct routine physical examinations one afternoon a week over a period of several months. He testified that he had never filed a false medical report and was unaware of any false medical reports being filed at the clinic.

Rather defended his failure to contact Galloway and to document his efforts, explaining that he saw several pieces of Galloway's stationery at the clinic and that he considered the failure to return his calls to be an admission of guilt. On the witness stand, Rather said he believed that Galloway had signed the false report at the time the program aired, and that he still believed it in the face of the doctor's denials and the statements of handwriting experts.

Despite the fact that Galloway was a private physician, the trial judge gave the jury the New York Times v. Sullivan instruction. If Dan Rather believed the false medical report carried Dr. Galloway's signature, it was required to return a verdict for CBS, the judge instructed. The jury found for CBS.

CBS lawyers and executives declared another victory for truth. It was in fact another victory for press permissiveness.

Galloway's suit was later the inspiration for a movie called Reckless Disregard.

Rather has done a lot of good work over the years, and the notion that he was driven by liberal bias is ridiculous. Still, I find it amazing that the lapse that finally did him in (Rather's denials to the contrary) was almost identical to one that took place much earlier in his career.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

BECHTEL UNLOADS ON THE GLOBE. Under fire from Governor Mitt Romney, Attorney General Tom Reilly, and others, Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff has decided to defend its work on the Big Dig by unloading on the Boston Globe. In a full-page ad on page 17 of today's Boston Herald, the firm reproduces an op-ed piece that it says it submitted to the Globe, only to have it rejected. "What the Globe Doesn't Want You to Read: Big Dig Safe & Sound," the ad begins. Isn't that nice?

The op-ed was written by Matt Wiley, who was program manager of the Big Dig and is a senior vice-president at Bechtel. I'm not going to reproduce his entire piece here (it doesn't seem to be online), but among other things he asserts that:

- "All the experts agree: The Big Dig is structurally safe and sound."

- "The tunnels already meet industry norms for water intrusion, even before they are finished."

- "The program to seal leaks will be completed within months, not years, generally at the contractors' expense and without jeopardizing the project's budget."

The ad also asserts:

The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi began her November 18 column: "The Tunnel is leaking. And the private management team hired to oversee the Big Dig should answer these questions: Is it structurally sound? Who is going to fix it? Who is going to pay for it?"

But when Bechtel Parsons/Brinckerhoff tried to answer those very questions in an opinion column, adding informed perspective on the controversy, The Boston Globe refused to run it.

So why wouldn't the Globe run the column? I asked editorial-page editor Renée Loth, who referred my inquiry to Globe spokesman BMaynard Scarborough. Scarborough, in turn, released a statement. Here it is in full:

It appears that Bechtel/Parsons is trying to blame the messenger in this situation. Contrary to what they have stated in today's ad, The Globe's Op-ed page is not the place for interested parties to rebut news stories or challenge the facts therein. Nor is it a public relations forum. The Op-ed page is a section of the newspaper where we feature differing opinions on issues that affect the community at large. Bechtel had the option of working through the Globe Ombudsman or using "Letters To The Editor" to air their discontent. It should be pointed out, however, that The Globe reported today on page B3 Bechtel's position on issues raised in recent news stories. That, in our opinion, clearly demonstrates that we continue to approach this story with fairness and objectivity in mind.

By the way, here's the Herald's report on Bechtel's response. And here is the Globe's archive of reports on the Big Dig.

CRIMSON AND WINGO. In case you haven't been following this, Harvard University and the Boston Herald are engaged in some serious eye-boinking.

It started last Thursday, when a Harvard senior named Jared Seeger wrote a piece for the Crimson devoted to the proposition that the Herald "is a really bad newspaper." Among other things, Seeger wrote that the Herald's editorial page "is where inane arguments go to die"; that columnist Howie Carr has "lower[ed] the 'acceptable' bar so that it is physically touching the floor"; and that "the newspaper pushes its right-wing agenda under the guise of honest journalism."

Seeger's column brought an angry response from Herald staff reporter Jules Crittenden, who wrote a letter to Seeger that's posted on Jim Romenesko's media-news site: "While it is regrettable that we have offended your sensibilities, you must recognize that when you go boldly forth to make your mark in the world, your limo driver will need something to divert himself while your Lordship is engaged in loftier pursuits."

Crittenden's response drew its own response, from Michael Woods, of Boxing Digest. Even though you might think Boxing Digest and the Herald would be sympatico, Woods came to the defense not of Crittenden but of Seeger. "While Seeger formulated a reasoned thesis about the paper's deficiencies, having obviously spend some time dissecting the personnel and their tendencies, Crittenden resorted to cheap shots based on stereotypes," Woods wrote, adding that Crittenden's tone "helps proves Seeger's points."

Finally - or maybe not - the Herald's page-one splash on Monday was "HARVARD HOOLIGANS," subheaded "Cops vow crackdown on rowdy, drunken fans." On page four, reporter Tom Farmer tells the sordid tale of drunken fans near the Harvard-Yale game on Saturday, much of it stemming from a decision by the Boston police to grant to Harvard's student union a one-day liquor-and-entertainment license for student tailgating.

Monday's Boston Globe ran a short inside story by correspondent Michael Busack on the same incident that identified two of those who were arrested as Yale students and five as Harvard students. That turned out, uh, not to be the case: today the Globe ran a correction - not yet online - saying that the two Yale students weren't actually arrested and the five Harvard students weren't actually Harvard students. Never mind.

No correction in today's Herald, which didn't identify the Yale students, and didn't specifically say the other five were Harvard students - even though the entire story reeked of ... well, what was that front-page head again? HARVARD HOOLIGANS!

Still, this story from today's Crimson shows that Harvard deserves plenty of blame for what happened on Saturday. Here's the best part:

But Undergraduate Council President Matthew W. Mahan '05 blamed the ban on kegs for the extent of hard liquor consumption. He said he never told Evans that students would only be drinking beer.

That's right. If only the kids had been chugging beer instead of Jack Daniel's, everything would have been just fine.

And I believe the ball is now back in Harvard's court.

RATHER ODD. Let's see. Dan Rather made a fool of himself over the phony Bush National Guard documents because of a report he did for 60 Minutes. That incident has made CBS the laughingstock of television news, which is really saying something. So Rather is going to step down as anchor of the CBS Evening News in March - and keep right on working as a correspondent for 60 Minutes. Is everything clear? And what is the frequency, Kenneth?

Monday, November 22, 2004

STRIKE THREE FOR PENDERGAST? [Perhaps not. See this update, posted on May 25, 2005.] The Boston Globe today publishes yet a third letter disputing the facts in former Mass Pike general counsel Peter Pendergast's op-ed piece of November 15 - this time from someone Pendergast had praised.

Jack Lemley, described by Pendergast as "the legendary 'Chunnel' construction manager" who would have been brought in to oversee the Big Dig back in 2001 if it were not for then-governor Jane Swift, writes that he had never been offered the position. He adds that, in his view, the Big Dig tunnel is safe.

Last week Pendergast appeared on NECN's NewsNight to discuss his allegations. (Scroll down to "Boston Globe Unveils Further Big Dig Problems.") When pressed by co-host Jim Braude as to why Swift wanted to quash the reforms being pushed by Pendergast, Pike board member Jordan Levy, and former board member Christy Mihos, Pendergast replied, "Bechtel was apparently one of Jane Swift's constituents." (That's a reference to Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the engineering combine that's overseeing construction - or perhaps actually not overseeing it.)

Meanwhile, Globe ombudsman Christine Chindlund today writes about "The Art of Writing Headlines" because, she says, she's currently "between controversies." Okay, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt - the controversy over Pendergast's op-ed is still playing out. Chinlund is scheduled to write again for the December 6 issue. The Pendergast column - how much of it is true, how much isn't, what sort of editing it went through - would be an excellent topic.

KEVIN SITES ON THE FALLUJAH SHOOTING. Here is the weblog entry from NBC News cameraman Kevin Sites to which the New York Times devotes this story today. Sites's account is harrowing. Notable is his belief - conviction would be too strong a word, since he's wrestling with it in his own conscience - that despite the terrifying, chaotic environment in which the US marines found themselves, the marine who allegedly shot the wounded Iraqi was nevertheless out of bounds.

Sites's entry is must reading in full, but here's a passage on how he dealt with his own dilemma regarding what to do with his tape:

I knew NBC would be responsible with the footage. But there were complications. We were part of a video "pool" in Falluja, and that obligated us to share all of our footage with other networks. I had no idea how our other "pool" partners might use the footage. I considered not feeding the tape to the pool - or even, for a moment, destroying it. But that thought created the same pit in my stomach that witnessing the shooting had. It felt wrong. Hiding this wouldn't make it go away. There were other people in that room. What happened in that mosque would eventually come out. I would be faced with the fact that I had betrayed truth as well as a life supposedly spent in pursuit of it.

But to think this through is one thing; to reach moral judgments about the young marine is another. Sites writes that the marine seemed horrified by what he'd done within moments of the shooting. For context, read Dexter Filkins's heart-stopping account in yesterday's Times about urban combat in Fallujah. As I wrote last week, I can't imagine that this sort of thing doesn't go on all the time.

Also, Slate last week published an excellent analysis by two military veterans on whether the marine actually committed a war crime. It's not an easy call, according to Phillip Carter and Owen West; for one thing, it depends on whether the dead Iraqi should have been considered an American prisoner, and that's something that could be argued either way. Carter and West also point out how repulsive it is to draw any sort of moral comparison between the marine's instantaneous reaction to an ambiguous, potentially deadly situation and the terrorists who cold-bloodedly executed Margaret Hassan.

I don't know where this is going, but I do know this: the marine's actions should be judged strictly on their own merits, and not on the fact that Sites's footage has inflamed some in the Arab world. It's not hard to understand why the marine did what he did. On the other hand, marines undergo rigorous training aimed at preventing this sort of thing from happening.

Perhaps he should be given extensive counseling and then be quietly discharged, with some follow-up to make sure he's getting on with his life. Based on what we know so far, that's the fairest solution I can think of at the moment.

I'd suggest counseling for George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as well, but I'm sure it's too late for it to do any good.

Friday, November 19, 2004

SCRATCHING OVER THE BIG DIG. This past Monday the Boston Globe ran an op-ed piece that appeared to offer a lot of useful background and perspective with regard to the Big Dig fiasco. Peter Pendergast, the former general counsel of the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, blamed much of the lack of oversight on former governor Jane Swift and on her hand-picked Pike chairman, Matt Amorello. Pendergast wrote:

As the direct result of the firings and her appointment of Matt Amorello as Turnpike chairman, Swift stopped the ongoing management restructuring of the Big Dig, including the cornerstone of the reform, to hire an owner's engineer to oversee the otherwise unsupervised Bechtel/Parsons....

The leading candidate at the time to become the owner's engineer supervising Bechtel/Parsons was legendary "Chunnel" construction manager Jack Lemley. In the mid-1990s, Lemley had written a report critical of Big Dig construction management. Ironically, Lemley is now leading the investigation of the leaks he might have prevented.

But wait. Two days later, Swift herself responded, not just whining at her negative portrayal, but making specific, factual allegations that Pendergast got it wrong. And today Swift's former top aide, Steve Crosby, writes to the Globe - again, with specifics suggesting that Pendergast allegations were factually off the mark.

Pendergast's charges are serious and relevant enough that we have a right to know whether they're true. This isn't just a job for ombudsman Christine Chinlund, although she might like to weigh in on the matter of how much vetting an outside op-ed piece ought to get. Rather, this is something the Globe itself should report.

The leaking tunnel is already a huge story. One major incident, and it's fair to say that this could become one of the great scandals in American history. The story is already going national. Today it's on page A3 of the Washington Post.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. From the New York Times to Al-Jazeera, the media try to make sense of the Fallujah.

THE YOUTH VOTE. I've written an article that's in the current issue of Bostonia magazine on a disturbing trend: the disconnect between young people and the news.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

JACOBY'S INCOMPLETE ODE TO JOHN ASHCROFT. In his ode to outgoing attorney general John Ashcroft today, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby offers incomplete evidence on his client's behalf. For example, Jacoby professes revulsion that People for the American Way had once compared Ashcroft to the "virulent segregationists" of the old South, and that the Los Angeles Times had once published a cartoon of Ashcroft in Klansmen's robes.

What Jacoby leaves out is that, in an interview with the neo-Confederate publication Southern Partisan, Ashcroft expressed his admiration for Confederate president Jefferson Davis, and spoke up on behalf of the Stars and Bars as well. The other day I heard an old clip of Ashcroft saying that he regretted not having done "due diligence" on Southern Partisan before agreeing to an interview. But the views he expressed in that interview are in perfect congruence with the mission of the magazine.

But I probably wouldn't have bothered to dredge up that history were it not for Jacoby's assertion that civil libertarians are not telling the truth about Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Jacoby writes:

The American Library Association revved up a hysterical campaign against Section 215 of the law, claiming that it posed a dire threat to the privacy of library records. When it turned out that Section 215 (which doesn't mention libraries) had never even been invoked, the ALA was not the least bit chastened. Making war on the attorney general and the Patriot Act had turned out to be great for PR. As a gleeful editorial in Library Journal put it, "If we didn't have Attorney General Ashcroft, we would have to invent him."

Does Section 215 mention libraries? Why, no it doesn't. But look at what it does say:

The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation or a designee of the Director (whose rank shall be no lower than Assistant Special Agent in Charge) may make an application for an order requiring the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items) for an investigation to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, provided that such investigation of a United States person is not conducted solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution.

Not libraries. Books! Records! Papers! Documents! And, of course, Other Items! The fact that these things are often found in bookstores and, you know, libraries is of no consequence, right?

Let's also consider the notion that you can't be investigated "solely upon the basis of activities protected by the first amendment to the Constitution." What does that mean? It's hard to say, but it shouldn't strike any fair observer as being particularly difficult to circumvent. As Dahlia Lithwick and Julia Turner wrote last year in a decidedly sober, non-hysterical analysis of the Patriot Act for Slate, "That means you can't have your records searched solely because you wrote an article criticizing the Patriot Act. But if you are originally from India and write that article, well, that's not 'solely' anymore is it?"

Then there is Jacoby's contention that Section 215 has "never been invoked." I've dealt with this before - most recently in August, when Globe columnist Cathy Young made the same mistake. It's true that Ashcroft's Justice Department claims it has never invoked Section 215. But a widely quoted (if apparently not widely enough) study found otherwise:

The USA Patriot Act of October 2001 and subsequent directives from Attorney General John Ashcroft have expanded the powers of federal law enforcement agencies. It is now easier for these agencies to obtain information about business records, including those of bookstores and libraries, and to monitor public meetings. Records of who has borrowed certain books or used public access computers (and for what purpose) are considered business records, although most libraries expunge information about what someone has borrowed once it is returned.

In the year after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, Federal and local law enforcement officials visited at least 545 (10.7%) libraries to ask for these records. Of these, 178 libraries (3.5%) received visits from the FBI. The number of libraries queried fell significantly below the 703 libraries reporting such requests the year before the terrorist events. The actual number questioned in the past year may, however, be larger, because the USA Patriot Act makes it illegal for persons or institutions to disclose that a search warrant has been served. A warning about these secrecy provisions on the LRC questionnaire may have served, in some cases, as a deterrent to candid answers. Fifteen libraries acknowledged there were questions they did not answer because they were legally prohibited from doing so.

What's unclear is whether law-enforcement officials were specifically invoking the Patriot Act when they dropped by for a friendly visit. What sticks out is that the number of libraries reporting such visits went down - in all probability a response to the provision of the Patriot Act that forces libraries to remain silent. After all, how likely is it that the number of law-enforcement visits declined during the year after 9/11?

A bookstore owner once told me about his strategy for letting his lawyer know he'd been approached under Section 215 without breaking the law merely by making that disclosure: he'd call his lawyer every day to tell him that the FBI had not dropped by with a subpoena. That way, if the day came when he didn't call, his lawyer would know what happened.

Section 215 is a secretive law passed by a terrified Congress and implemented by a secretive administration. Neither Jeff Jacoby nor I know how many times and under what circumstances it has been used. For Jacoby to claim otherwise is disingenuous.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

NOT THAT SIMPLE. Media Log will offer no snap judgments in the matter of the US marine who is being investigated for shooting an apparently wounded, unarmed Iraqi insurgent in Fallujah. According to reports, the marines couldn't have been in a more terrifying situation: some of the insurgents have faked being dead, only to rise up with guns ablaze, and some of the bodies have been boobytrapped. Moreover, the marine who's been charged in the shooting had been wounded the day before.

It's very easy to leap to the conclusion that the marine committed a war crime, and perhaps the facts will make that conclusion inescapable. But it's hard not to imagine that this sort of thing goes on all the time, given the chaotic, frightening environment into which these young men have been dropped. In this case, a camera crew just happened to be there.

The larger crime is that their - that is, our - government put them in that situation in the first place.

The Boston Globe's Bryan Bender digs deep on these moral ambiguities today. Also well worth reading: Anthony Shadid's account in the Washington Post. Shadid finds that Iraqi man-on-the-street opinion is more mixed than you might expect. By contrast, Eric Schmitt's New York Times coverage is thorough but one-dimensional.

Andrew Sullivan offers the proper comparison between this and Abu Ghraib: "One a snap judgment in a furious battle context; the other a pre-meditated example of abuse and murder of prisoners in U.S. custody."

Typically repulsive was Jay Severin yesterday on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), who said that the marine ought to get a medal for killing "vermin." You don't have to endorse such idiocy in order to feel sympathy for the plight of this young marine.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

CONSERVATIVE FOR KERRY. I'm on deadline today, so I'll make this quick: conservative pundit Jonathan Last has a smart piece on the Weekly Standard's website on why John Kerry was "a pretty good candidate" for president. And New Republic editor-in-chief (and semi-liberal) Martin Peretz has a rant on why it was all Kerry's fault. (If you can't access Peretz's TNR piece, try this; it's pretty much the same.)

Yes, it's come to this.

Monday, November 15, 2004

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Before announcing his resignation today, Secretary of State Colin Powell carried out one last mission for a president who didn't deserve it. In the last few months of the campaign, the long-irrelevant Powell, whose prescient warnings about Iraq were ignored every step of the way, raised his profile, and even made it sound like he would serve well into a second term. As the Phoenix editorialized in September:

It had been a long time since we'd seen much of Powell, but it makes sense. Powell may be the president's greatest political asset. And that's what this is all about: election-year politics, nothing more.

Now the election's over, and Powell is gone, which should surprise no one. If you voted for Bush because you thought he was finally going to start listening to the sanest of his advisers, guess what? You were taken again.

RADIO TRAGEDY. Here's a small but interesting wrinkle in the tragic story of Brad Bleidt, who reportedly attempted to commit suicide after admitting he had bought WBIX Radio (AM 1060) with money he'd obtained by defrauding his investors. As one of the few independent radio stations remaining, WBIX has attracted an inordinate amount of attention from other media organizations - including the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald.

For one thing, WBIX is the home of Bailey and Stein, hosted every weekday from 9 to 10 a.m. by Globe columnists Steve Bailey and Charlie Stein. It's a very good show that deserves a wider audience, and I would say that even if I wasn't an occasional unpaid guest.

For another, Bleidt and Herald publisher Pat Purcell had talked in the past about forming some sort of partnership, which would have given Bleidt much-needed capital and Purcell the radio outlet he has long coveted. In the spring of 2003, Bleidt told me he was definitely interested in some sort of arrangement. Added Purcell: "We've had a number of conversations, and that's a possibility."

Those plans, however, were contingent on the FCC's loosening its prohibition on cross-ownership, a rule that forbids any one owner from controlling a newspaper and a radio or television station in the same market. Later in 2003 the FCC, as expected, all but abolished the cross-ownership ban. But Congress, prodded by angry constituents, put the FCC's action on hold, where it has remained ever since. Congress did the right thing, but in this case what was good for democracy was bad for Bleidt - and possibly for Purcell as well.

When I interviewed Bleidt a year and a half ago, he sounded relaxed and confident. He made it clear that though he was looking for some sort of print partnership, he would not be willing to sell out entirely. "Actually, I'm having too much fun," he told me. "That's what's so delicate. We really have to make sure it's the right fit." But he closed on an oddly threatening note, mildly worded, yet totally out of sync with what I'd thought was a pretty friendly exchange. "You be good now," he said, adding: "I'm serious."

As it turns out, Bleidt didn't even own WBIX at the time of our interview. According to yesterday's Globe account, by Christopher Rowland, Bleidt agreed to buy the station for $13.2 million in November 2002, but didn't complete the deal until January 2004. In the spring of 2003, when I talked with Bleidt, he and his wife, WBZ-TV (Channel 4) reporter Bonnie Bleidt, were controlling the station, but he had apparently not yet come up with the cash he needed to call it his. Then, just six months later, he reached an agreement to sell to Chris Egan, the son of EMC founder Richard Egan.

The Herald coverage is worth reading as well. Here is Cosmo Macero's piece from yesterday's paper. Today the Herald follows up here, here, and here.

According to the papers, the sale to Egan is expected to go through. But if this thing's not nailed down, then all bets are off. Here's one possibility now that WBIX has a 24-hour signal: Bloomberg Radio, the home of Boston-based hosts Michael Goldman and Tom Moroney, would almost certainly love to have a Boston outlet. And Bloomberg ownership would fit well with 'BIX's all-business orientation.

COUNTING THE VOTES. I remain in wait-and-see mode regarding accusations that John Kerry would have been elected president were it not for shenanigans pulled by the Republicans, especially in Ohio. I've read some things that are interesting, but I have yet to see anything I would consider proof.

But why do we have to read out-and-out distortions like the assertion by Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young about "Kerry's groundless claim in a campaign stump speech that one million African-American votes weren't counted in Florida"?

Groundless? Uh, I think not. Greg Palast, who knows this stuff cold, wrote on Friday:

American democracy has a dark little secret. In a typical presidential election, two million ballots are simply chucked in the garbage, marked "spoiled" and not counted. A dive into the electoral dumpster reveals something special about these votes left to rot. In a careful county-by-county, precinct-by-precinct analysis of the Florida 2000 race, the US Civil Rights Commission discovered that 54% of the votes in the spoilage bin were cast by African-Americans. And Florida, Heaven help us, is typical. Nationwide, the number of Black votes "disappeared" into the spoiled pile is approximately one million. The other million in the no-count pit come mainly from Hispanic, Native-American and poor white precincts, a decidedly Democratic demographic.

Now, Young writes that Kerry claimed one million African-American voters were disenfranchised in Florida alone, but I think she's mistaken. Palast quotes Kerry's remarks before the NAACP convention earlier this year: "Don't tell us that in the strongest democracy on earth a million disenfranchised African-Americans is the best we can do. This November, we're going to make sure that every single vote is counted."

There is a high statistical probability that a million black voters were disenfranchised four years ago. There is no reason to think much has changed since then. By the way, be sure to read all of Palast's piece, which argues that Kerry would have won Ohio and New Mexico - and thus the presidency - if African-American votes weren't tossed at a rate far higher than those of whites.

And Cathy Young needs to start boning up on the facts.

Friday, November 12, 2004

NEW YORKERS FOR BUSH. Robert David Sullivan, who developed the pioneering "Beyond Red and Blue" map for CommonWealth magazine, has uploaded his analysis of the presidential election. His most interesting findings:

  • Bush got one of his biggest popular-vote boosts from the area around New York City, despite losing that region overall by a substantial amount.
  • The most solidly Republican area of the country now is Appalachia, "which has the poorest and most rural population in the US." Guess those Republican leaflets saying that Kerry wanted to ban the Bible and force gay marriage down their throats worked. Yep.

THE OTHER SHOE. Boston Herald radio columnist Dean Johnson today asks a good question: is Boston University's investigation of itself really going to be allowed to stand as the last word regarding Jane Christo's tenure as general manager of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM)?

Without suggesting that the level of wrongdoing was really any worse than what was already found, wouldn't it make sense for BU interim president Aram Chobanian to name some sort of outside, independent panel?

At one point Massachusetts attorney general Tom Reilly was at least being kept informed of the investigation, but there are no signs that he's moving forward on this. (With the Big Dig tunnel falling apart, he's obviously got his hands full.) Besides, a full-fledged state investigation would probably amount to overkill.

But since Christo ran up multimillion-dollar deficits, awarded no-bid contracts, and the like as an employee of Boston University, Chobanian should get to the bottom of whatever was going on. The report issued this week appears merely to skim the surface.

HARD TIMES AT SPARE CHANGE. The Homeless Empowerment Project, which publishes Spare Change News, has laid off its executive director in an effort to keep its services intact - including the newspaper. (See earlier coverage here.) Here's the press release:

HEP, Spare Change News Restructure and Plan for the Future

CAMBRIDGE - In light of a projected 2005 fiscal shortfall, the Board of Trustees of the Homeless Empowerment Project (HEP) voted to cut costs by laying off its executive director. Relying on its remaining staff and its volunteers, the publisher of Spare Change News will continue all of its services: producing the newspaper and providing an employment opportunity for Greater Boston's unemployed and homeless.

On Tuesday, October 25, the HEP Board examined the proposed budget and discussed various ways to balance it - including layoffs, cutting services or cutting back publication of the paper from twice to once per month. In the end, the board decided that the only way to balance the budget while maintaining the core values and mission of the organization was to release Executive Director Fran Czajkowski. Czajkowski attended the meeting and was actually the individual who first proposed her departure as one option for balancing the budget. Czajkowski served the organization in the executive director capacity for several years, during which time HEP grew significantly and was able to continuously advance its core mission. Her last day of work was November 5. HEP board member Paula Mathieu, a professor of English at Boston College, has stepped in temporarily as interim director.

"HEP and Spare Change News have a talented, dedicated staff and group of volunteers who have seen the organization through tougher times than this," said Lee Mandell, president of HEP's board of trustees. "This change will not hurt our mission in the least."

The overall size of the HEP staff had doubled over the past year, from one full-time and three part-time workers to three full-time and two part-time staff. Fundraising, which has also grown over recent years, had not increased enough to maintain this increase in staff. The existing staff of two full-time and two part-time employees will cover all the day-to-day operations of the organization. The HEP Board will step in to oversee fundraising and establish new initiatives.

"In order to keep the paper going, in order to keep providing an income to more than a hundred men and women who depend on the paper, we had to cut costs," said Mathieu. "At the same time, we are going forward with direction, energy and hope for the future."

HEP will continue to expand its work with homeless and other disadvantaged people throughout Greater Boston. The non-profit plans to reestablish a Speakers' Bureau that will make available staff and vendors of the newspaper to talk with local school, religious or community groups about issues of homelessness and poverty. Additionally, long-time Spare Change vendor James Shearer was recently voted a member of the Board and will oversee the Vendor Committee as well as take part in discussions on future visions for the paper.

"We hope these changes will increase the empowerment opportunities at HEP," said Mandell. "We plan not only to survive but thrive, by encouraging all of our staff and vendors to become active in the organization as we go forward."

HEP publishes Spare Change News (SCN), a biweekly street newspaper that reports on issues including homelessness and poverty from local, national and international perspectives. SCN's vendors, many of whom are homeless, sell the newspaper to earn a living. SCN also publishes original work by people who are homeless or otherwise marginalized by society.

"Spare Change News will continue to publish timely, important and engaging articles that people will not find in other publications," said SCN editor Sam Scott. "We are committed to reporting the news and helping our vendors earn a living despite this temporary setback."

In addition to other fundraising measures HEP is planning, the organization will have its annual holiday appeal, which will be featured in the newspaper beginning November 25. People interested in supporting or volunteering for HEP can call 617-497-1595, ext. 12 or e-mail meg@homelessempowerment.org.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

GONZALES AND THE DEATH PENALTY. President Bush's choice for attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, is getting plenty of well-deserved scrutiny today for his role in authorizing the torture of prisoners taken in Afghanistan and Iraq, and for urging Bush not to extend the protections of the Geneva Conventions to inmates at Guantánamo Bay. That latter decision was the subject of a scathing federal court decision earlier this week, a decision that at least temporarily put the military tribunals out of business.

Incredibly, the Gonzales choice may prove to be unpopular with right-wingers, because he's seen as a squish on reproductive rights and affirmative action.

Here's something else you need to know. In 2003, the Atlantic Monthly reported on Gonzales's role in advising Bush, when he was governor of Texas, about death-penalty cases and whether those scheduled to die deserved clemency. You have to be a subscriber to read the Atlantic article, by Alan Berlow. But John Dean summarized it for FindLaw.com, and his article is freely available (thanks to Michael Goldman for passing this along). A highlight from Dean's piece:

Berlow writes that the memos reflect "an extraordinarily narrow notion of clemency." They appear to have excluded, for instance, factors such as "mental illness or incompetence, childhood physical or sexual abuse, remorse, rehabilitation, racial discrimination in jury selection, the competence of the legal defense, or disparities in sentences between co-defendants or among defendants convicted of similar crimes."

Take the case of Terry Washington, a thirty-three-year-old mentally retarded man with the communications skills of a seven-year-old executed in 1997. Gonzales's clemency memo, according to Berlow, did not even mention his mental retardation, or his lawyer's failure to call, at trial, for the testimony of a mental health expert on this issue. Nor did it mention that the jury never heard about Washington's history of child abuse; he was one of ten children, all of whom "were regularly beaten with whips, water hoses, extension cords, wire hangers, and fan belts."

Justice tempered with sadism.

OFFICIALLY DEAD. Yasser Arafat died this morning, according to this Associated Press dispatch.

I agree with Jeff Jacoby so infrequently that I want to call your attention to his fine column in today's Boston Globe on Arafat's brutal legacy.

And here is the editorial from the new edition of the Boston Phoenix, the first part of which deals with the opportunities created by Arafat's demise.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Axis of evil - meet five new Republican senators who want to make your worst nightmares come true.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE. Media Log is supposed to be taking the day off. But I'm so outraged by this story in today's Boston Globe that I feel an overwhelming urge to link to it and scream incoherently. Sean Murphy and Raphael Lewis report that it could take 10 years to fix the leaks in the Big Dig - which, last time I checked, isn't even finished yet. Okay, all togther now: Aaaiiiyeee!!!

Serious question I: Attorney General Tom Reilly is reportedly involved in discussions aimed at filing a lawsuit against those responsible for this calamity. Does that mean Reilly is not contemplating a criminal investigation as well? If not, why not?

Serious question II: Is the I-93 tunnel really safe? What assurances do we have that the walls aren't going to burst loose while hundreds of cars are trapped inside during rush hour? For some reason, I do not find it reassuring that the folks at Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff are telling us that the tunnel is "structurally sound."

KARL ROVE, ELBOW-PATCHED LIBERAL. Lowell Sun columnist and WBZ Radio (AM 1030) talk-show host Paul Sullivan says that George W. Bush did not win because of gay-hating religious zealots. He writes:

The claim that this election was some sort of religious revolution is a smokescreen that the liberal media, Hollywood know-it-alls and the elbow-patched campus crowd use to explain why they lost.

But Paul! Karl Rove says you're wrong.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

CURTAIN CLOSES ON CHRISTO ERA. The Jane Christo saga ended not with a bang but with a whimper. The Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and the Providence Journal today report that Boston University has concluded its investigation of the former general manager of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM). The upshot: Christo's mismanagement of the BU-licensed station was far more serious than any particular improprieties of which she had been accused.

(Here is a piece I wrote about WBUR last month, just before Christo resigned.)

To be sure, Christo did not receive absolution. The investigation found that she had engaged in preferential hiring practices and had been involved in the spending of station funds for personal use. But though BU doesn't say so, it's clear that the real reason for her sudden departure after 25 years at the helm were the millions of dollars in deficits she had run up. Her stunning decision to sell WRNI Radio in Providence and a sister station in Westerly just six years after purchasing them triggered an unraveling of events that she couldn't control.

In time, it will become possible to assess Christo's legacy. Christo did great things with 'BUR, though I think she has been overpraised by her admirers. Her one overarching insight was that a public radio station could succeed with an all-news format, an insight that became increasingly important as deregulation transformed commercial radio into a wasteland for serious news and public affairs. If she had never done anything but make sure the bills from NPR, the BBC, and PRI were paid, she would have performed a significant public service.

As a programmer, though, Christo's record is mixed. Her major flaw was that she would never commit to a local show of the sort that can be heard on some other public stations in other parts of the country. As soon as she got a program up and running, such as The Connection or Here and Now, she would start offering it to other public stations and drain much of the local flavor out of it. The oddity is that WBUR broadcasts five hours of high-quality, original programming every day (the two aforementioned shows plus On Point), and none of it speaks to this city or this region except for the fact that they are based here.

I don't think I'll ever arrive at a satisfactory conclusion in my own mind as to how much responsibility Christo bears for the departure of Christopher Lydon, the original host of The Connection, and Mary McGrath, his senior producer. But I do know this: Lydon was the station's signature personality as well as an exceptionally talented, intellectually curious host. And for whatever reason, neither he nor McGrath could work with Christo any longer. Yes, Lydon and McGrath made some demands about ownership that Christo wouldn't and probably shouldn't have met. But was it really necessary for her to fire them? Was there no chance of working things out?

The major concern today is whether the station's new leadership, under interim general manager Peter Fiedler, can get spending out of control without damaging what we hear every day. That's why I don't expect to hear Lydon back on the air, unfortunately, although if Lydon were somehow able to put together a package that wouldn't cost WBUR anything, then Fiedler should jump on it. (And why haven't Lydon and 'BUR's main competitor, WGBH Radio-89.7 FM, found a way to form a partnership? It's inexplicable.)

As to whether Boston University can afford the station as it currently exists - well, ultimately, that's up to the listeners and the corporate underwriters. In an odd sort of way, public stations such as WBUR are far more market-oriented than commercial stations: if the listeners don't come through which checks, then the stations cease to exist.

Here is the full text of a statement issued yesterday afternoon by BU:


Anonymous allegations pursued - many unsubstantiated, but some problems found; remedial steps taken

BOSTON - Boston University today announced the results of a six-week long investigation into certain management practices at WBUR, a Boston-based public radio station whose broadcast license is held by the university. The investigation, which began the day the university received anonymous allegations about the independently run station, found that certain of the charges were unsubstantiated while some had merit.

The university's Office of the General Counsel and internal audit team conducted the investigation with the full cooperation of WBUR's management and staff, as well as its former general manager, Jane Christo, who resigned on October 15, 2004. In those cases where the investigation found problems or deficiencies, other university departments were consulted in order to identify and implement remedial changes.

Vice President and General Counsel Todd Klipp summarized the investigation's findings and reported that:

Grant Money: WBUR management and staff did not misuse or mismanage restricted gift funds or State Department grants to the station, as had been alleged.

Hiring Practices: No illegality was involved. However, the station management's hiring practices created the appearance of granting preferential hiring treatment to a small number of applicants. The university's current hiring policies, which now cover the station, will prohibit those types of practices in the future.

Expenses: The investigation turned up no systematic or recurring abuse of the expense reimbursement process at the station. However, it was determined that less than $10,000 of station funds were used to cover personal expenses. The university will recover those funds on behalf of the station, and it has put additional reporting safeguards in place to prevent a repeat of this situation.

Tuition Remission: Contrary to the anonymous allegations, station management did not violate the university's practice of extending tuition remission benefits to dependents of employees.

No-Bid Contracts: The station's contract award process permitted certain contracts to be awarded on an on-going, no-bid basis. That practice is inconsistent with current university requirements and has been discontinued.

"Citizens of the World": The investigation found that although the Citizens of the World tour program was a well-intentioned attempt to cultivate major donors, it was neither successful nor effectively managed. The station has discontinued the program.

Station Vehicles: The investigation found that station vehicles were generally used in appropriate and legitimate ways, but one employee did use a car for personal purposes. That activity is no longer taking place.

"It is very clear," said Klipp, "that WBUR fulfilled its most important mission - to build and maintain one of the nation's best public radio stations - and the anonymous allegations must be put in that broader context. Nonetheless, as the institution that both holds the license and helps to underwrite the station, the university felt it was critically important to investigate, report and take remedial action. We have done just that."

Klipp went on to say that "wholly apart from this investigation, the university has decided to retain Grant Thornton, a leading management advisory firm, to review all of WBUR's business and management practices and report its recommendations to the station's interim general manager, Peter Fiedler. Any changes Peter may make as a result of the study will improve the station's business practices and make a great radio station even better as we conduct a search for a permanent general manager."

One of New England's leading sources of news and information, WBUR is owned and operated by Boston University and is a member station of National Public Radio. WBUR also broadcasts a selection of BBC programs and such locally produced programs as "The Connection," "Here and Now," "On Point," "Only a Game" and "Car Talk." WBUR has won more than 100 major awards for its news coverage, including several George Foster Peabody Awards, and was named Associated Press News Station of the Year for 2004.

Here is the text of a statement issued yesterday by Christo's lawyer, Max Stern:

Jane Christo's record during 25 years as General Manager of WBUR is one of remarkable accomplishment. Her vision and leadership has made WBUR into one of the most important and respected public radio stations in the nation.

Boston University's six-week long investigation, triggered by an anonymous letter alleging improper management practices, has determined that the allegations are without merit.

After an extensive review of the facts, BU has concluded that the management practices in question, save for a couple of very minor exceptions, were compliant with existing University policy and done with the full knowledge of University officials.

Jane is happy to have the investigation concluded and is looking forward to future challenges.