Thursday, March 31, 2005

A MEDIA LOG DEBATE! Tim Graham, of Brent Bozell's Media Research Center, writes to Media Log:

Dan: Like all your liberal friends, you're so defensive of Michael you won't even acknowledge facts that make him any shade less heroic. [Note: I assume Graham is referring to this.] The common-law wife and the two kids, for starters. You can try and build a case that Michael's not Dr. Evil. But it's sloppy to argue that because some question Michael or Judge Greer, we're all building up hatred. I could just as well turn that around and say every liberal's critique of George Bush's war in Iraq, using terms like "Bush lied, people died," calls on all the crazies to assassinate him.

Media Log writes back to Graham:

That doesn't make Terri Schiavo any less brain-dead for the past 15 years. It doesn't change the fact that most of her brain was gone, and had been replaced with spinal fluid. It doesn't change Jay Wolfson's opinion. It doesn't change the fact that people like Hammesfahr and Weller were coming out and reporting things that simply could not be true. You are focusing on the wrong issues.

Please point out where I have ever called for Bush's assassination, or said anything even remotely supportive of anyone who did. For that matter, please point out one single liberal - as opposed to some left-wing nutjob - who's ever called for Bush's assassination.

"But it's sloppy to argue that because some question Michael or Judge Greer, we're all building up hatred." Come on, Tim, you know that's not what I said. I said that the almost-certain lies of people like Hammesfahr and Weller, aided and abetted by the likes of Hannity and Scarborough, were whipping people into a frenzy, since they were painting a picture of a sentient woman who could be rehabilitated. Hell, if there was one scintilla of evidence that they were credible, I'd probably have been outside the hospice demonstrating with the disability-rights activists. If you're going to criticize me, please try to be accurate.

THE END. At long last, Terri Schiavo has died. I've got a piece in the new Phoenix on how the media-and-political circus surrounding this case may have placed Michael Schiavo's life in danger for many years to come.

Taking the opposite view is the great Nat Hentoff, writing in this week's Village Voice. Obviously I think he's wrong, but this is well worth reading.

TINA GETS IT. It's odd enough that I find myself nodding in agreement with everything Tina Brown says (well, not the bit about Nancy Grace's nostrils) that I've got to share this with you:

The current mania for any story with a religious angle is just the latest index of the post-election angst in executive suites about the terror of being out of touch with suburban mega-churches and other manifestations of the supposed Real America. God forbid, so to speak, that anyone should stand up and suggest that Mozart might be as worthwhile as NASCAR, or that it might be as important for the soul to read Philip Roth as the hokey bromides of "The Purpose Driven Life."

Bring back the cultural elite!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

A LIFE LESSON. If you read Brian MacQuarrie's horrifying story on the Wilkersons all the way through yesterday, you would have learned that evangelical yuppie strivers Michael and MarCee not only condemn Gandhi and Jews to hell, but aren't so keen on Catholics, either. Check this out:

Like many evangelical congregations, Hope Church is nondenominational. Its members include former mainstream Protestants as well as one-time Catholics "who now are Christians," Michael says. "The Catholic religion? I'm not too sure that Jesus is a big, integral part of that."

Perhaps MacQuarrie and Jack Thomas can arrange a meeting between the Wilkersons and Ric Teves so that Michael can explain to Ric where he's gone astray. Thomas has a wonderful piece in today's Globe about Teves, a State Police trooper who's caring for his severely brain-damaged partner, Ellen Engelhardt, also a trooper. (Suzanne Kreiter's photos are equally wonderful, but you'll have to take my word for it, since they didn't make it to the online version. Grrr.)

But Teves and Engelhardt are not only Catholics, they're both divorced, and they (gasp) bought a home and lived together without benefit of marriage.

Hey, Wilkersons - sin alert! It's too late to set Engelhardt straight, but surely you can help Teves see the light. That is, if he's not too busy suctioning out his girlfriend's tracheostomy tube.

At least the Wilkersons are Christians. Ric Teves is merely a saint.

TUBE TALK. There is something weirdly coincidental that on a morning when Terri Schiavo's parents are making yet another legal attempt to have her feeding tube reinserted, we learn that both Jerry Falwell and the pope are on life support. (Okay, the pope not so much. But I need three to make a trend, right?)

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

BURNING LOVE. I've always figured that the best thing about going to hell would be seeing all my friends again. I was wrong. Michael and MarCee Wilkerson tell the Boston Globe's Brian MacQuarrie that I'll get to meet Gandhi, too. Woo-hoo!

Nice to know that the Mahatma and I will be sharing the eternal torments of the damned while a couple of BMW-driving yuppies from Cincinnati will be doing the halo-and-wings thing.

Memo to Democrats: stop trying to appeal to these folks. They sound like very nice people. They also happen to hate us.

GOD BLESS HARRIET KLAUSNER. When my book on dwarfism, Little People, was published a year and a half ago, the first person to review it on was a woman named Harriet Klausner. She liked it, Mikey, she really liked it.

Today the Wall Street Journal's Joanne Kaufman profiles Klausner, who has reviewed nearly 9000 books for Amazon, and often plows through four or five a day.

Monday, March 28, 2005

RE-IMAGINING THE NEWSPAPER. Today's Globe carries an AP article on the experiment under way at the Greensboro News & Record, in North Carolina. The idea is to use blogs and interactivity to re-invent the paper as an ongoing conversation with its readers rather than the traditional one-way street.

Jay Rosen has written voluminously about Greensboro on his PressThink blog. You'll find a reasonably good introduction here. You might even stumble across a skeptical comment or two from me. It strikes me that one potentially huge stumbling block to all this is that it presupposes intense participation on the part of readers - and one of the biggest problems the news business faces is that so many people are pressed for time.

Still, this is obviously a worthwhile experiment and bears watching.

APPLE V. BLOGGERS. John Mello quotes me in this TechNewsWorld piece on Apple's lawsuit against bloggers.

THE WRONG TEST. Los Angeles Times media columnist David Shaw argues that shield laws protecting journalists from having to give up their sources should not include bloggers. To which I say, of course, not all bloggers. The test should be not who's a journalist, but who's engaged in journalism. Shaw writes:

Given the explosive growth of the blogosphere, some judge is bound to rule on the question one day soon, and when he does, I hope he says the nation's estimated 8 million bloggers are not entitled to the same constitutional protection as traditional journalists - essentially newspaper, magazine, radio and television reporters and editors.

Shaw's use of the semi-phony eight million figure is the giveaway. Yes, by some counts, there are eight million or more people with weblogs out there. But surely there are only a few dozen to a few hundred trying to engage in anything even remotely resembling journalism. A judge well-versed in media law should be able to figure out who's doing journalism and who isn't.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

MORE ON THE HERALD. Blogger Jay Fitzgerald, who covers business for the Herald, is upset: Adam Gaffin, proprietor of the invaluable Universal Hub blog of blogs, is writing a blog roundup for the Globe's site while at the same time finding items that poke fun at the Herald's business woes to post on his own site. Read this first, then start scrolling up. I love Adam's work, but I'd say Jay's got a legitimate complaint.

Also, I should have mentioned that the Herald's Greg Gatlin wrote a piece for his own paper on the $7 million question. Click here.

HOW MUCH IS $7 MILLION? I didn't get a chance to tend to Media Log yesterday - so, naturally, a poster accused me of ignoring the "Boston media story of the year ... $7 million in painful cuts at the Boston Herald." Well, now. Where to begin?

What's going on at the Herald this year may prove to be a huge story. What happened this past Thursday, on the other hand, was pretty minor. As Mark Jurkowitz reported in the Boston Globe yesterday, Herald publisher Pat Purcell met with union heads on Thursday and told them that he needs to find $7 million in savings. There were no details; the parties will meet again on April 4; and the cuts apparently will not be implemented until the end of June.

Late Thursday afternoon I spoke with Lesley Phillips, head of the Newspaper Guild at the Herald. Though she couldn't really say anything beyond the prepared statement that Jurkowitz reported, she did not strike me as ready to go into full panic mode. Going into the meeting, there were all kinds of rumors flying about - that Purcell might announce the sale of the Herald, or that he might start pushing for drastic cutbacks of the sort that would let him fill his pages cheaply with wire-service stories and copy from his Community Newspaper chain. Neither one of those things happened, although it's certainly possible that they could down the road.

Not to sound defensive (who, me?), but I reported the essence of this story (scroll down) on February 25. At that moment the Herald was already in the midst of deep budget cuts, sale rumors, and continuing angst over Boston's Metro, the freebie tabloid in which the New York Times Company - parent company of the Globe - has purchased a 49 percent share. "It's really across the country, and we're looking at all our expenses," Purcell told me at the time.

The most important question is what it will mean to cut $7 million. Although there is no word of layoffs coming out of One Herald Square, it's also true that $7 million would cover the salaries of 140 employees making $50,000 a year. That basic math has not escaped the notice of at least one newsroom source I spoke with. On the other hand, it could very well be that there are other areas where the $7 million can be found. At this point, there's no way of knowing.

THE GLOBE AND THE GLOBE. Foreign editor Jim Smith sent out a memo yesterday at 6:41 p.m. announcing some pretty significant changes in the paper's international coverage. An insider passed along a copy to Media Log. It reads in full:

I am delighted to announce that Colin Nickerson will be the Globe's next European bureau chief, succeeding Charlie Sennott when he comes home this summer. At the same time, Anne Barnard and Thanassis Cambanis will move from Baghdad to Jerusalem, succeeding Charlie Radin when he too returns home. Colin, who is completing a Knight Science Fellowship at MIT, has spent much of his Globe career producing outstanding coverage of world affairs, often from perilous locations. Anne and Thanassis have provided extraordinary coverage of Iraq, during the initial invasion in 2003 and for the past year from their base in Baghdad. In Jerusalem, they will form a two-person bureau responsible for covering the Arab world as well as the Israeli-Palestinian story. From Jerusalem, they will travel to Iraq periodically as well as elsewhere in the region. Please join me in congratulating Colin, Anne and Thanassis and wishing them luck and success in these new assignments.


Sounds like the Baghdad bureau is history. But Iraq isn't necessarily the biggest story taking place in the Middle East right now. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the tension between Lebanon and Syria come to mind as stories that are at least as important. By having two people in Jerusalem instead of one, it sounds like the Globe will be able to deploy people more easily across the region.

No doubt Barnard and Cambanis - who have done a tremendous job of covering the war in Iraq - would rather spend what little down time they have in Jerusalem rather than in Baghdad.

WRONG AGAIN. I'm beginning to think that New York Times columnist David Brooks's greatest shortcoming is that he tries so hard to be reasonable that he fails to appreciate how unreasonable most people really are.

Today he tries to characterize the positions of both sides in the Terri Schiavo debate as principled but incomplete. In so doing, he is way too kind to the religious zealots who have made Schiavo their cause, and he manages to belittle social liberals unfairly as well.

Take this, for instance:

Social conservatives ... say that if we make distinctions about the value of different lives, if we downgrade those who are physically alive but mentally incapacitated, if we say that some people can be more easily moved toward death than others, then the strong will prey upon the helpless, and the dignity of all our lives will be diminished.

The true bright line is not between lives, they say, but between life and death. The proper rule, as Robert P. George of Princeton puts it, should be, "Always to care, never to kill."

Professor George sounds like someone I could have a conversation with. But he's not one of the conservatives who've injected themselves into this. Instead, we're dealing with people like Barbara Weller, Randall Terry, and Dr. William Hammesfahr, whose claims grow more ludicrous by the day. At some point, I fully expect that one of them will tell us Terri asked for a pizza with everything - hold the anchovies - and a cold beer. They know most people don't accept their true position, so they characterize Terri Schiavo's condition in terms that are completely contradicted by all credible evidence.

Here is what Brooks has to say about social liberals:

The central weakness of the liberal case is that it is morally thin. Once you say that it is up to individuals or families to draw their own lines separating life from existence, and reasonable people will differ, then you are taking a fundamental issue out of the realm of morality and into the realm of relativism and mere taste.

You are saying, as liberals do say, that society should be neutral and allow people to make their own choices. You are saying, as liberals do say, that we should be tolerant and nonjudgmental toward people who make different choices.

Well, not this social liberal. I do believe that someone in a persistent vegetative state - or even a minimally conscious state - has a right to die if he or she expressed such a desire when able to do so. We will never know with 100 percent certainty if Terri did indeed tell her husband, Michael, that that's what she would want. But the courts have determined that she did. Moreover, as best as we can tell, Terri Schiavo is very close to being brain-dead, and has been for the past 15 years.

Because of these two factors, I don't think I'm being the least bit of a moral relativist here. Neither those who side with Michael Schiavo in public-opinion polls - many of them evangelical Christians.

Brooks wants to think this is a dispute over two different ways of seeing the world. To honorable people like him and Robert George, it is. Sadly, in the real world, it's a mud wrestling match between truth and falsehood.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

DOING WELL BY DOING GOOD. But how well? NPR had something boring on this morning, so I flipped over to Don Imus, who was defending himself against this Wall Street Journal report on the Imus Ranch, in New Mexico.

According to the article, by Robert Frank, the ranch - a charity for children with cancer - spends an extraordinary amount of money given how few kids actually stay there. Imus's personal use of the ranch and tax-accounting practices have come under scrutiny as well.

Imus defended himself by saying he's been out in the open with this, and that he'd be happy to sit down and answer questions from New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer without a lawyer and without preconditions.

I don't know what to make of this. As the Journal story makes clear, Imus has done a lot of good. But the story bears watching.

DISABILITY AND LIFE. John B. Kelly has some thoughts on the Terri Schiavo case from a disability-rights perspective. It's smart and worth reading, though he seems to be stuck where I was a few days ago, not realizing that people who claim to have interacted with Schiavo are almost certainly lying to advance their own agendas.

The courts have ruled that she made her wishes known years ago, and those wishes are finally being carried out. The US Supreme Court has now refused to intervene. Next: Judge George Greer has to fend off Florida governor Jeb Bush.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Why Michael Jackson's trial can't hold a bloody glove to O.J. Simpson's.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

BIG IN MANITOBA. I'll be on Adler Online in Winnipeg (okay, I'll be in Boston) tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., talking about the Terri Schiavo case with former Boston television and radio talk-show host Charles Adler. You can find his take here. And you can listen live on the Net via CJOB.

DR. FRIST'S EXPERT. I want to return to Senator Bill Frist's remarks of a few days ago concerning the case of Terri Schiavo. Specifically, take a look at this:

I called one of the neurologists who did evaluate her, and evaluated her more extensively than what at least was alleged other neurologists had, and he told me very directly that she is not in a persistent vegetative state.

Who was this neurologist? The answer, apparently, is Dr. William Hammesfahr, who's been making the media rounds extensively this week. According to today's New York Times:

Several weeks ago, Dr. Frist said he contacted Dr. William Hammesfahr, a neurologist who has examined Ms. Schiavo and has generated controversy by saying that she might improve with treatment in a hyperbaric chamber, which forces oxygen into the blood. Dr. Frist said he used Dr. Hammesfahr as a conduit to obtain 33 court affidavits in Ms. Schiavo's case, along with video images of her.

That seems to match up perfectly with Frist's remarks. So let us consider this doctor who thinks Terri Schiavo can return to the living with some Michael Jackson-style treatments. On Monday, Sean Hannity interviewed Hammesfahr on his radio show. The audio is online here. I wish I had a transcript, but as you will hear, Hammesfahr claimed that, with proper rehabilitation, Schiavo could improve to the point where she could eat at restaurants, go to the movies, and enjoy life like anyone else. Hannity himself came within a millimeter of calling Terri's husband, Michael, a murderer; Hammesfahr demurred, explaining that he did not want to get sued.

Hannity also claimed repeatedly that Hammesfahr has been nominated for a Nobel Prize. This fits perfectly with one of Media Log's favorite pseudo-journalistic paradigms: "accurate but not true." The indispensable Bob Somerby digs up a report from the St. Petersburg Times that Hammesfahr's claim to Nobel glory rests on the fact that he once persuaded his congressman to write a letter to the Nobel committee. Hey, if that's all it takes, then I can claim to be a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, based on my success in whining to my editor to please please please send in my stuff.

Somerby also notes that the St. Pete Times reported in 2003 that Florida judge George Greer, who's in charge of the Schiavo case, had once called Hammesfahr a "self-promoter" who had "offered no names, no case studies, no videos and no test results to support his claim" that he had successfully treated patients even worse off than Schiavo.

I have tried to take a reasonable approach in understanding an immensely difficult issue, only to learn that I've been lied to by the likes of Frist and Barbara Weller, a lawyer for Terri Schiavo's parents. I don't agree with Frist politically, and I understand that Weller is being paid to spin things her clients' way. But still, we have a right to expect basic truth from the Senate majority leader and from an officer of the court such as Weller.

Yes, my critics are nodding their heads sagely this morning, wondering why it took me so long to figure this out. Well, I don't want to travel down the road of terminal cynicism if I can avoid it. But it's moments like this that remind me of this Lily Tomlin observation: "No matter how cynical you get, it is impossible to keep up."

And I have merely been deceived. I can't imagine what it must be like to be Michael Schiavo today, lied about in the most grotesque and shameful manner, his very life at risk because people like Sean Hannity have no compunction about labeling him as a monster who's trying to murder his wife.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

WHO IS BARBARA WELLER? When I decided this past Saturday to dive into the Terri Schiavo matter, I did so largely on the basis of a statement by Barbara Weller, a lawyer who represents the Schindler family. As I noted at the time, this paragraph from the New York Times really got my attention:

Yet Barbara Weller, a lawyer for the Schindlers, told reporters outside the hospice that Ms. Schiavo had responded emphatically Friday morning when Ms. Weller asked her to say, "I want to live." According to Ms. Weller, Ms. Schiavo's eyes "just popped right open" and she made loud noises, startling a police officer stationed outside her room, and then wept.

Now that this tragedy seems finally to be drawing to a close, I find myself asking: who is Barbara Weller? If the testimony of Dr. Jay Wolfson is to be believed - and I find him utterly credible - then some of the things that Weller has been saying seem impossible.

For instance, I found this story on a website called Here is an excerpt:

"From the moment we entered the room, my impression was that Terri was very purposeful and interactive and she seemed very curious about the presence of obvious strangers in her room," Weller explained.

As she has been described by others who have visited with her, Weller indicated Terri as glowing when her parents entered the room or interacted with her.

"When she heard their voices, and particularly her mother's voice, Terri instantly turned her head towards them and smiled," Weller says, adding that Terri often purposefully established eye contact with her family.

Weller said Terri recognized every voice in the room with the exception of the deep voice of fellow Schindler attorney David Gibbs. She said Terri searched the room until she found the man with such a resonating voice.

Along with Gibbs, Weller met with Terri at Woodside Hospice, where Terri lives, and was joined by Terri's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, Terri's sister and niece.

When Terri's family said their good-byes to leave, Weller says Terri was visibly upset.

"She almost appeared to be trying to cling to them," Weller said of Terri's interactions with her mother and sister.

"It was definitely apparent in the short time I was there that her emotions changed - it was apparent when she was happy and enjoying herself, when she was amused, when she was resting from her exertion to communicate, and when she was sad at her guests leaving," Weller said.

"The whole experience was rather moving," Weller says. "I never imagined Terri would be so active, curious, and purposeful."

World Net Daily has a greatly expanded version of Schiavo's alleged reaction to the news that her feeding tube would be removed. Again, Weller is at the center of the story, although some of this is from radical anti-abortion-rights activist Randall Terry:

Weller essentially told Terri Schiavo, "You had better say you want to live or they will kill you. Just say you want to live."

Schiavo responded with a drawn out, "IIIIII," then screamed out "waaaaaaaa" so loudly that a police officer stationed outside the room came in.

The officer then ordered Weller removed from the room, according to Terry.

The event was witnessed by Terri Schiavo's sister Suzanne Vitadamo and Suzanne's husband Michael.

"I talked to Suzy and Michael, and they both said it was unbelievable," Terry said. "It was very articulate, for Terri, but they also say this is normal [for her to communicate]."

Terry explained the family says Schiavo often is talkative, though similar to a 10-month-old.

"The words usually are not discernable, but she's responsive to commands, uses slow diction and her voice lilts to show emotion and context," he said.

Weller teared up after hearing Schiavo respond today, Terry said, and indicated Schiavo was crying.

It's because of Weller that I took the view that Judge Greer ought to visit the hospice and ask Schiavo himself whether she wants to live. I now have to believe that Weller is not telling the truth, and that the preponderance of the evidence is that she knows she's not telling the truth.

Which leads me to a final question: is it okay for a lawyer to lie in the course of representing her clients? Or is this something that the Florida bar should investigate?

Needless to say, if Weller's account is to be believed, then what's taking place right now is unspeakable. But the kinds of interactions that Weller reports would have been noticed by Dr. Wolfson and others, and could have been caught on videotape as well.

NOT STUPID ANYMORE. This story caught my eye yesterday, but I didn't have a chance to read it until this morning. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, John McKinnon reports that now that George W. Bush no longer has to worry about re-election, he doesn't have to pretend he's a moron who can't talk, can't think, and doesn't read books. How repellent is that?

Perhaps most sickening of all is that Bush and Karl Rove's view of the anti-intellectualism of the Republican base is probably right on target.

Monday, March 21, 2005

GOOGLE 101 PART II. It turns out that J.M. Lawrence of the Herald wrote about the informant website that the Globe reported on today way back on January 16. Lawrence actually named the site and included the address. Now, this is getting ridiculous, but in the interest of consistency I am still going to refrain from doing so myself.

SCHIAVO'S GUARDIAN SPEAKS. Media Log reader T.C. sends along this link to an NPR interview with Dr. Jay Wolfson, who spent a month in 2003 attempting to determine whether Terri Schiavo had any cognitive function left at all. His conclusion: no.

This is a fine interview. Wolfson - who comes across as unusually compassionate and clear-headed - is convincing in his assessment that Schiavo cannot respond to any outside stimulus, and that decisions about her care should thus be guided by her statement to her husband, Michael, that she would not want to be kept alive under such circumstances.

It's also far more useful than links explaining to me that Congress is grandstanding or that the killing of Sun Hudson proves that George W. Bush and Tom DeLay are hypocrites. You think I didn't know that already? More important, such revelations shed no light on Terri Schiavo's condition.

Meanwhile, federal judge James Whittemore says he will not rule immediately on a bid to reattach Schiavo's feeding tube.

NO ORDINARY JOE. This profile of retired New York Times executive editor Joe Lelyveld, occasioned by the publication of his memoirs, is a must-read. Written by Stephen Dubner, it appears in the current edition of New York magazine.

FRIST ON SCHIAVO. There's little doubt that some members of Congress are posturing on the Terri Schiavo issue. Still, I think it's important to listen to Senate majority leader Bill Frist, who is, as we know, a physician.

I am not a Frist fan. But these remarks come across as a genuine attempt by a politician-doctor to understand precisely what is going on with Schiavo. The transcript is obviously pretty rough, but it's worth making the effort to read it all the way through. In these excerpts, I'm cleaning the transcript up a bit for readability:

I called one of the neurologists who did evaluate her, and evaluated her more extensively than what at least was alleged other neurologists had. And he told me very directly that she is not in a persistent vegetative state. And I said, "Well, give me a spectrum" from this neurologist, who examined her. To be fair, he examined her about two years ago, and to the best of my knowledge, no neurologist has been able to examine her [since]. I'm not positive about that, but that's what I've been told.... But at that time, clearly she was not in a persistent vegetative state.


The attorney for Terri's parents have submitted 33 affidavits from doctors and other medical professionals, all of whom say that Terri should be re-evaluated.... Either 14 or 15 of these affidavits are from board-certified neurologists. Some of these doctors very specifically say they believe on the data that they had seen that Terri could benefit from therapy. There have been many comments that her legal guardian - that's Terri's husband - either has not been aggressive to rehabilitation to other reports that say that he has thwarted rehabilitation since 1992. I can only report what I have read because I haven't met him. Persistent vegetative state, which is what the court has ruled - I say that I question it. I question it based on a review of the video footage, which I spent an hour or so looking at last night in my office here in the Capitol. And that footage, to me, depicts something very different than persistent vegetative state.


In 1996, a British medical journal study conducted at England's Royal Hospital for Neurodisability concluded that there was a 43 percent error rate in the diagnosis of PVS [persistent vegetative state]. It takes a lot of time, as I mentioned earlier, to make this diagnosis with[out] a very high error rate. If you're going to be causing someone to die with purposeful action, withdrawal of a feeding tube, you're not going to want to make a mistake in terms of diagnosis.

Now, it's certainly possible that Frist's knowledge of medicine greatly exceeds his knowledge of the facts in this specific case. Just for starters: I thought Terri Schiavo had undergone tests far more extensive than Frist seems to believe, and it may well turn out that Frist is wrong. Still, a few observations are in order here:

1. Frist's comments are clearly those of a thoughtful, anguished person who understands a lot more about brain damage than the ideologues on either side of this case do. I find it interesting that he thinks the video clips are useful, since a commonly voiced criticism is that they only represent a few minutes excerpted from more than four hours of trying. I assume Frist knows that.

2. Even if Schiavo is not in a chronic vegetative state, she still has a right to die, whether Frist and his fellow Republicans like it or not. The courts have ruled that she expressed a desire to die if she ever found herself in such miserable circumstances.

3. Which brings me right back to where I started on Saturday. Indeed, if Schiavo really isn't in a persistent vegetative state, that should make this all the easier. Just ask her! Either Judge Greer or a designated representative, accompanied by Schiavo's family, should spend a few hours at her bedside to attempt to determine whether she is capable of responding to questions about her fate, as the family's lawyer, Barbara Weller, claimed the other day.

If she is, and she expresses a desire to live, then that obviously supersedes what she told her husband, Michael, many years ago. If she isn't, then we have to accept that this is a charade, as most of my fellow liberals have already concluded. At that point, she could be allowed to die with dignity, and the political grandstanding now under way could be brought to a rapid end.

GOOGLE 101 AND PUBLIC SAFETY. The Boston Globe today publishes a terrifying story about a website in which folks caught on the wrong side of the criminal-justice system can finger people who they believe may be police informants.

There is a moment of unintentional black humor. Reporter Kathleen Burge writes:

The Globe is not naming the website because it is impossible to verify whether all the people listed there are informants, and because publicizing access to their identities could jeopardize their safety.

Hmmm ... I didn't time myself, but I'm pretty sure it took me less than 30 seconds to find the site based on hints in Burge's story. I'm not going to identify the site, either. But I'm not going to pretend that anyone can't do what I just did.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

MORE ON TERRI SCHIAVO. As I expected, my post yesterday engendered some fairly intense reaction on the part of Media Log readers, most of whom seem to think I've suddenly allied myself with the likes of Tom DeLay, who is cynically trying to make people forget about his alleged ethics violations by pandering to the religious right.

Please. It amazes me that most liberals (there are exceptions, most notably Senator Tom Harkin) seem untroubled by what's going on in Florida - just as Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby is amazed that his fellow conservatives don't seem to care about the widespread torture being used by US forces against suspected terrorists. (Click here and here.)

One of my correspondents wrote, "It's time to encourage public officials and the media to start using their brains, as in honor medical opinion and trust the legal system." Well, I don't endorse Congress's grandstanding efforts to force the Schiavo case into the federal courts. But "trust the legal system"? You've got to be kidding. I trust the legal system when it appears to be trustworthy, which is to say sometimes.

As for honoring medical opinion, I honor it as the best efforts of very smart, well-intentioned people to understand what's going on. But we all know that medical opinion changes pretty radically over time. Years ago, many disabled infants were institutionalized, even starved to death. Today they often become productive members of society. And yes, I realize this isn't a particularly good analogy to Terry Schiavo.

Anyway, let me close with a couple of links. Because I am the first to acknowledge that I don't really understand Terri Schiavo's current condition (an aside to my critics: neither do you), I found this piece by Benedict Carey, in today's New York Times, to be useful and fascinating. He writes:

Especially when a patient's eyes open on emergence from a coma, Dr. [Joseph] Fins said, family members are likely to assume that this is evidence of recovery. In fact, he said, it can augur poorly for the patient. When the eyes open but there is no quick return to mental responsiveness, it suggests that the primitive brain stem is reasserting itself, without engaging the higher brain: the cortex and other parts that are involved in thought and emotion.

And here is the link to Not Dead Yet, a radical disability-rights group for which I have a great deal of respect. Not Dead Yet opposes assisted suicide and euthanasia from an entirely different perspective from that of, say, Randall Terry, the anti-abortion-rights extremist who has unfortunately allied himself with Terri Schiavo's parents.

Here's an excerpt worth pondering from Not Dead Yet's website:

Legalized medical killing is not a new human right, it's a new professional immunity. It would allow health professionals to decide which of us are "eligible" for this service, and exempt them from accountability for their decisions. Killing is not just another medical treatment option, and it must not be made any part of routine health care. In these days of cost cutting and managed care, we don't trust the health care system, and neither should you.

I recognize that the Schiavo case has been going on for years, and it may well be that enough is enough. Mrs. Media Log pointed out to me yesterday that it was suspicious that Barbara Weller, the lawyer who claims Terri Schiavo reacted with great emotion when asked if she wanted to live, apparently did not videotape it. (Although I still say that Judge Greer ought to visit Schiavo's room and ask her himself.)

But this remains an extraordinarily difficult case, and I remain unsure that letting Terri Schiavo die is the right thing to do.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

THOUGHTS ON TERRI SCHIAVO. The urge to weigh in on this tragedy has overcome my better judgment. My knowledge of the legal issues is superficial at best. I have not followed this story obsessively over the past several years. Still, this is such a human dilemma that it's almost impossible not to form an opinion - and, once that opinion is formed, it's almost impossible not to express it.

So let me at least try to restrict myself to facts that are obviously true, or that seem obviously true to me.

1. Terri Schiavo has a right to die in her current condition. Her husband, Michael, claims she told him that she would want to die if she were permanently incapacitated. The legal system has determined that Michael Schiavo is telling the truth. Thus her parents have no legal claim to act on her behalf. But ...

2. Terri Schiavo is not in a persistent vegetative state. The videos that are online at are absolutely convincing that she is semi-aware, semi-responsive, and able to understand people in some dim way. Claims to the contrary - as in this New York Times story - are so clearly untrue that they have poisoned the debate. Yes, I am choosing to believe my own lying eyes over the testimony of numerous medical experts. If that makes me naive, so be it. Therefore ...

3. Terri Schiavo has a right to change her mind and choose to live. She does not appear to be in pain. She appears to enjoy, at some level, her parents' visits. The question is, is she capable of changing her mind? Again, from today's Times:

Yet Barbara Weller, a lawyer for the Schindlers, told reporters outside the hospice that Ms. Schiavo had responded emphatically Friday morning when Ms. Weller asked her to say, "I want to live." According to Ms. Weller, Ms. Schiavo's eyes "just popped right open" and she made loud noises, startling a police officer stationed outside her room, and then wept.

Under such circumstances, it is inconceivable to me why Judge George Greer wouldn't get off his rear end, drive down the hospice, and ask her himself. Or am I missing something?

TRUTH AND BLOGGING. Some observations on the Project for Excellence in Journalism's report.

Friday, March 18, 2005

THE BOONDOCKS, PART II. This story in Editor & Publisher raises the possibility that the Globe didn't change The Boondocks, but rather was one of several papers that requested and received an alternate version from Aaron McGruder's syndicate. Okay, now Chris Chinlund has to write about this. And is McGruder on board?

A CENSORED ITEM ABOUT CENSORSHIP. Well, not really censorship; when a newspaper does it, it's called editing. But I do want to direct your attention to yesterday's Globe, in which - unbenownst to readers - the comic strip The Boondocks was edited to remove a reference to the N-word.

Here is the strip as it was apparently supposed to run. The offending phrase: "Yeah, it's like the n***a version of the Cuban missile crisis." I do not know whether artist Aaron McGruder added the asterisks himself, or if instead they were added by his syndicate.

But here's how the same sentence appeared in the Globe: "Yeah, it's the ghetto Cuban missile crisis."

Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund has written about controversies over The Boondocks at least three times during her tenure, according to an exclusive computer search conducted this morning on behalf of Media Log. I would imagine that this coming Monday will make four.

The most recent occasion was last September 27, when the Globe refused to run the strip for almost exactly the same reason that it altered yesterday's. Chinlund wrote:

The Globe did not run the "Boondocks" comic strip that artist Aaron McGruder drew for last week because, as an editor's note explained Monday, the strip "did not meet the Globe's standards." A Boondocks rerun appeared in its place. Some readers who went online to see what they were missing said they disagreed with the Globe's call.

"I don't understand how you can censor a comic strip . . . ," said Gail Rothenberg. Said Steve Knapp, "Intelligent readers can understand and enjoy social satire when presented with it."

The satire in question involves the use an asterisked version of the N-word, and a plot built around job-seekers participating in a reality TV show titled: "Can a 'N***A' get a job?!"

Why did the Globe pull the strip?

"The use of a racial epithet is something we try to avoid," said Michael Larkin, deputy managing editor for news operations. Blanking out just the offending word would have obscured the satiric point, he said. "Beyond that, in dealing with a very complex issue the strips were relying on stereotypes that, in the editors' judgment, were likely to offend some readers."

For the record, I'm conflicted on this. On the one hand, it strikes me that McGruder has a sufficient reputation as a satirist of African-American life that he ought to be able to express himself in the language that many black people actually use.

On the other ... I mean, come on. It's the N-word, for crying out loud. You can't put that in a mainstream daily newspaper.

I do think that if the Globe editors genuinely believed it would be a mistake to run yesterday's strip, they should have killed it rather than changing it around.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

IT DEPENDS ON WHOM YOU ASK. The Herald today reports that the Democratic leadership on Beacon Hill is sticking up for Massachusetts Turnpike Authority chairman Matt Amorello, Governor Mitt Romney's designated fall guy for the Big Dig catastrophe.

The Herald's Ann Donlan and Noelle Straub write, "As the latest Big Dig controversy raged, Democratic leaders lined up behind Amorello," citing US Representative Steve Lynch and Attorney General Tom Reilly as powerful Democrats who oppose Amorello's removal.

Herald columnist Howie Carr is even more emphatic about Democratic support for Amorello (nominally a Republican, by the way), claiming (sub. req.), "The bloated boss of the Big Dig is still counting on all his old pals from the Legislature to back him up - Trav, Sal, Tony, Joey, Stevie. The hackos di tutti hacki are all still in his corner, as you could tell from the deafening silence emanating yesterday from the State House."

Deafening silence, huh? Carr ought to get the wax out of his ears. Because this Globe story, by Raphael Lewis and Sean Murphy, lists three influential Democrats who said yesterday that they either want to see Amorello go or are willing to consider it. To wit:

In a surprising development, however, several Democrats said they agreed with Romney that Lemley's statements raised serious concerns about Amorello's stewardship of the Turnpike Authority, and at least one, Secretary of State William F. Galvin, also called on Amorello to step down.

"This is now a public safety issue, and the only way to know the situation is to get access to these records," Galvin said. "The shell game has got to end. And Amorello is the person in charge."

Yesterday, Senator Steven A. Baddour, Democrat of Methuen and cochairman of the Joint Transportation Committee, criticized Amorello for denying Lemley access to records.

Baddour also said he was surprised and outraged that Amorello had failed to renew Lemley's contract in December, as well as that of tunnel- wall specialist George J. Tamaro.

Lemley was brought on in late 2003 to assist retired Judge Edward M. Ginsburg's efforts to recoup money lost to Big Dig construction defects and mismanagement. Tamaro was hired last fall after a massive leak in the tunnel wall.

"At the end of the day, the Turnpike Authority doesn't have the credibility to stand up before the public to say these tunnels are safe," Baddour said. "That's why we brought in Lemley and Tamaro."

Senator Mark C. Montigny, Democrat of New Bedford, said it now appears it is time to consider a bill filed by Romney that would merge the Turnpike Authority with the state Highway Department, which legislators have long resisted.

"The turnpike and Bechtel have grossly mismanaged this project, and the Pike has perhaps lived beyond its useful life," Montigny said. "If there's some way to put politics aside, we should reopen the discussion with the governor."

Uh, Howie, would "Stevie" be Steven Baddour? Just wondering. And how come Bill Galvin didn't tip you off? Granted, he's not a legislative leader, but isn't he one your best sources?

Monday, March 14, 2005

"FREE" CONTENT ISN'T FREE. A couple of months ago, Slate's Jack Shafer set me straight on the notion of so-called free content on the Internet. We were talking about the future of online media following the sale of Slate to the Washington Post Company. Somehow, the discussion turned to the issue of whether online media would ever be able to charge for their content.

Here's how Shafer sees the world: online media have already persuaded you to buy a printing press (your computer), at a huge cost savings to them; and you've also taken on the cost of their distribution system (your monthly Internet bill). In such an environment, does it really make sense to talk about "free" content?

That conversation came to mind this morning, when I read Katharine Seelye's story in the New York Times, headlined (talk about stacking the deck) "Can Papers End the Free Ride Online?" There's a lot of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth over all the revenue that's being lost, but nowhere is there an acknowledgment of how much money media organizations are saving on printing and distribution costs.

Newspapers, of course, face tremendous challenges online, but for the smart and fleet of foot those challenges will be transitory, not permanent. One huge problem is that papers still earn most of their money from their printed editions, which means that they are not saving anything on printing and distribution, except for the incremental cost of not having to buy and deliver quite as much newsprint. At some point, though, the print products will cease to exist, and the presses can be sold for scrap metal.

Another is that though online advertising is growing rapidly, it's still not nearly as lucrative as print advertising. It amounts to just two percent to three percent of a newspaper's total revenues, according to Seelye's article.

Back in the early 1990s, I attended a conference at Columbia University whose topics included, among other things, a discussion of the coming world of online media. This was pre-Web, pre-Internet, at least for all except the most hardcore. So the discussions assumed an emerging world that would have been very different from what we have today.

The talk was of "digital tablets" - essentially magazine-size laptops stripping of everything but a docking port and some rudimentary navigation tools - that newspapers would give away as an incentive for you to stop having the print edition dropped on your doorstep every morning. At night you'd plug the tablet into a docking station on your cable box, and you would automatically receive your paper overnight - or parts of papers, such as international news from the Times, political news from the Washington Post, local news and sports from the Boston Globe, and the like.

Yes, you'd pay for these subscriptions, but look at what you would not be paying for. You wouldn't need to lay out $1000 to $2000 for a computer. You wouldn't need to pay for online access beyond what you were already paying for cable. In that world, it would have made perfect sense to pay for content. But that's not the world that came into being.

If the Wall Street Journal and Salon can succeed with paid-subscription models, good for them. But I suspect those are always going to be the exception. The problem with whining about "free content" is that free isn't free. When network news was in its heyday, you didn't need anything but a television set and an antenna; advertising paid for the rest, and the quality was a lot better than what we have today. Eventually, online news is going to become like the network news of years past - although, in world of a million blogs, the established news organizations will never assume the importance and dominance of CBS, NBC, and ABC in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.

It may be taking longer than cost-conscious news executives would like, but we'll get there.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

GIVE THEM ENOUGH ROPE. The media story of next week will appear in tomorrow's New York Times, and it's already up on the Web. Headlined "Under Bush, a New Age of Prepackaged News," the lengthy piece - by David Barstow and Robin Stein - takes a close look at the Bush administration's practice of flooding bottom-line-obsessed local television news outlets with feel-good video press releases that are often aired without being identified as government propaganda.

Though the Clinton administration apparently practiced this dark art as well, it appears to have accelerated greatly under Bush, whose deputies have used the fake news reports to pump up everything from Iraq and Afghanistan to his agriculture policies. Barstow and Stein write:

Under the Bush administration, the federal government has aggressively used a well-established tool of public relations: the prepackaged, ready-to-serve news report that major corporations have long distributed to TV stations to pitch everything from headache remedies to auto insurance. In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.

But what's especially disconcerting is how willing some "news" operations have been to play along. In many cases, the videos arrive properly identified, so that if they were put on the air as is, viewers would at least know their source. Yet the news orgs remove that identification to make it look like they're doing their own legwork. For instance:

Even if agencies do disclose their role, those efforts can easily be undone in a broadcaster's editing room. Some news organizations, for example, simply identify the government's "reporter" as one of their own and then edit out any phrase suggesting the segment was not of their making.

So in a recent segment produced by the Agriculture Department, the agency's narrator ended the report by saying "In Princess Anne, Maryland, I'm Pat O'Leary reporting for the U.S. Department of Agriculture." Yet AgDay, a syndicated farm news program that is shown on some 160 stations, simply introduced the segment as being by "AgDay's Pat O'Leary." The final sentence was then trimmed to "In Princess Anne, Maryland, I'm Pat O'Leary reporting."

Brian Conrady, executive producer of AgDay, defended the changes. "We can clip 'Department of Agriculture' at our choosing," he said. "The material we get from the U.S.D.A., if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice."

Another example, this one from Champaign, Illinois:

More than a year ago, WCIA asked the Agriculture Department to record a special sign-off that implies the segments are the work of WCIA reporters. So, for example, instead of closing his report with "I'm Bob Ellison, reporting for the U.S.D.A.," Mr. Ellison says, "With the U.S.D.A., I'm Bob Ellison, reporting for 'The Morning Show.'"

[News director Jim] Gee said the customized sign-off helped raise "awareness of the name of our station." Could it give viewers the idea that Mr. Ellison is reporting on location with the U.S.D.A. for WCIA? "We think viewers can make up their own minds," Mr. Gee said.

The Bush administration is blurring the line between news and public relations, and that's bad enough. But for so-called news organizations to participate so eagerly in this loss of their own credibility is mind-boggling. Or, rather, it should be. Somehow it isn't, and perhaps that's the biggest shame of all.

RUNNING FROM THE PACK. You don't have to share Bret Stephens's sanguine view of the war in Iraq (I certainly don't) to appreciate what a sharp piece of media criticism this is. From the economic threat supposedly presented by Japan Inc. to what we now understand was the ridiculous notion of Yasser Arafat as peacemaker, Stephens asks why the media's conventional wisdom consistently turns out to be anything but wise.

Stephens writes:

As for the media, it shouldn't be too difficult to do better. Look for the countervailing data. Broaden your list of sources. Beware of exoticizing your subject: If you think that Israelis and Palestinians operate from no higher motive than revenge, you're on the wrong track. Above all, never forget the obvious: that the law of supply and demand operates in Japan, too; that the Soviet Union was a state governed by fear; that Iraqis aren't rooting for their killers; that, if given the chance, people will choose to be free.

Friday, March 11, 2005

VOICE OF REASON. Folks who are attacking Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena for suggesting that American troops deliberately shot up her car ought to read H.D.S. Greenway's reasoned take in today's Globe. Greenway writes:

Giuliana Sgrena's suggestion that the Americans might have targeted her car isn't credible. But given that she had just been released from a harrowing month in captivity only to be shot by Americans, a little emotional hyperbole is understandable.

Unless there's new information, that pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?

NOT KOSHER. A press release came in over the fax machine from Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) ripping Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Sam Brownback, and Rick Santorum for wanting to spend $90 million to study the effects of television on children. Check out this sentence:

CAGW named Sen. Lieberman Porker of the Month when he introduced the same legislation in August, 2004.

Oof. As Lieberman himself might say: Is this a great country or what?

METRO LINER. The New York Times Company's bid to acquire 49 percent of Boston's Metro has become official, with the Justice Department reportedly rejecting the Herald's contention that the deal would violate antitrust law. (The Times Company owns the Globe, don't you know.)

Herald coverage here; Globe coverage here.

ALTERMAN V. GLOBE, CONT'D. I wrapped up my coverage of the dispute between Eric Alterman and the Globe two weeks ago. (Click here, scroll to the bottom, and click on "Page 3.") Nevertheless, it's worth noting that Alterman has now written about the dispute in the pages of the Nation, where he is the media critic.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

MY MY APOLOGIES APOLOGIES. has been down for most of the day. Now I see that almost every effort I made to post came through all at once. So if you're an e-mail subscriber, you're receiving today's posts multiple times.

RATHER'S FAREWELL. Dan Rather's final night as anchor of The CBS Evening News was more engaging than I thought it would be. Like most people under 60, I rarely watch any of the network newscasts. My principal broadcast news source is NPR, because it comes to me where I am: in my car, creeping to or from Media Log Central.

Thus my main exposure to Dan, Tom, and Peter over the years has been during major news events and election nights. Rather's newscast last night was hardly a historic moment. His "courage" sign-off struck me as a less-than-successful attempt to recontextualize one of his weirder moments from years past.

But the hour-long special that followed, Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers, was a reminder that despite Rather's well-documented shortcomings, the guy has been there for just about every big story since 1960s - from the Galveston hurricane, to the assassination of John Kennedy, to Vietnam, and on through Watergate, Iran-contra, his "Gunga Dan" moment in Afghanistan, right up through and beyond 9/11. If I'm not mistaken, he was the last journalist to interview Saddam Hussein, and from what I can recall, it was a reasonably tough interview, given that his subject could have ordered him to be dismembered at any moment.

At one point our 14-year-old son, Tim, said to me that it seemed like Rather had been there for every major event of the 20th century. Well, by the time the hour reached its closing moments it certainly seemed that way.

As you might expect, the retrospective was not exactly an honest and hard-hitting look at Rather's career. Rather explained two of his most famous lapses - his self-indulgent "No, Mr. President, are you?" retort to Richard Nixon, and his unnecessarily combative interview with George H.W. Bush - as the inevitable consequence of his "passion." Well, gosh darn, I guess Rather's biggest fault was that he just cared too much.

The program also repeated the clip of Rather personally apologizing for relying on apparently phony documents in the 60 Minutes story on George W. Bush's National Guard service last September. That story pretty obviously hastened Rather's retirement, the numerous denials notwithstanding. Somehow, though, the broadcast omitted the bombshell in the Thornburgh-Boccardi report that Rather later took back his apology. The standup guy sat down.

Walter Cronkite's timing was awful, but he was right when he told CNN this week that Bob Schieffer, not Rather, should have replaced him 24 years ago. Schieffer will now have his chance, though it's likely to last only for a year or two - if that long.

Still, Rather will be missed. He was a link between the great World War II-era television journalists such as Cronkite and Edward R. Murrow and the modern period of downsizing, celebrity, and sensation. Unfortunately, given the direction in which television news has been traveling, we're likely to miss Rather before too long. Courage.

GLOBAL CIRCULATION. I have not written one word about the circulation scandal that has hit several daily newspapers during the past year or. It's arcane and insidery, and has nothing to do with the media issues that I care about. And I pretend to zero expertise on the subject.

This Editor & Publisher story, though, is interesting - well, okay, not much, but the Prudential study it cites has some harsh things to say about the Boston Globe's circulation practices, and that's at least mildly interesting.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

CHRISTOPHER LYDON RETURNS. The founding host of WBUR's The Connection and his producer, Mary McGrath, will be back on the local airwaves, on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM), on May 30. Lydon's voice has long been missed, and it will be great to hear him again. He'll be competing with 'BUR's Tom Ashbrook, but you can't have enough good stuff.

Here's my take on Lydon and McGrath's impending comeback, which will appear in the print edition of tomorrow's Phoenix.

BORING BUT NECESSARY. Steve Bailey's otherwise fine story in today's Globe on the Red Sox' plans to expand in the Fenway neighborhood should have carried the disclaimer that the Globe's corporate parent, the New York Times Company, is part-owner of the Sox. Yes, every time, unless it's a pure sports story.

The Herald's Scott Van Voorhis had the WBCN piece of the story yesterday, and follows up with more details today.

DAN-O-RAMA. I'll be appearing on The Paul Sullivan Show today at 10 p.m. (WBZ Radio, AM 1030) to talk about Dan Rather's final newscast as anchor of The CBS Evening News. Which means that I'm going to have to watch the damn thing.

Monday, March 07, 2005

WHAT HAPPENED TO GIULIANA SRGENA? Danny Schechter has rounded up every bit of reportage and commentary he can find on the bizarre shooting of Italian journalist Giuliana Srgena by US troops and the killing of the Italian intelligence officer who'd rescued her.

I wish Schechter wouldn't hang so much on Eason Jordan, a spineless little man who lacks the courage of his own convictions - that is, if we can even figure out what his convictions are. (According to Schechter, Jordan's current silence is bought and paid for. Very nice.)

But this is a weird and disturbing story, and it bears watching.

APPLE PLAYS THE HEAVY. The New York Times today catches up with Apple Computer's boneheaded lawsuit against three websites that traffic in rumors about new products that the company has in the works. Apple is trying to force the website operators to turn over their confidential sources, arguing that trade secrets had been illegally disclosed.

The principal issue: do shield laws that protect journalists from having to give up their sources protect bloggers as well? According to the Times and to this invaluable backgrounder by the Online Journalism Review's Mark Glaser, the answer - under California law - appears to be a qualified "yes." That is, state law would appear to get around the sticky problem of defining who's a journalist by instead protecting the act of journalism.

At a time when it's becoming almost impossible to say who's a journalist and who isn't, that's as it should be. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean the bloggers are home free. The courts, after all, have become notably reluctant to allow press-pass-bearing journalists from major news organizations to protect their sources, never mind bloggers.

SOX TALK. The Phoenix's Mike Miliard is in Florida following the Red Sox. He's also started a weblog called - simply enough - Sox Blog. Check it out.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

COMEBACK KID. Mark Jurkowitz has a nice piece in today's Globe on Paul Sullivan, the Lowell Sun columnist who's taking over for the late David Brudnoy at WBZ Radio (AM 1030) even as he battles brain cancer. Sullivan is a good guy, and Media Log wishes him the best.

A COMMENT ON COMMENTS. I don't remember exactly when it was that I turned on's "comment" feature for Media Log - sometime in 2004, I think. But I have been concerned from the beginning that something would happen that would make me turn it off.

We're not there yet. However, I would like to suggest three guidelines. I would make them mandatory, but I can't - Blogger doesn't let me screen comments beforehand. (Just as well, I suppose, given how much time it would take.)

1. Post your comment once. In the past couple of days I've seen instances of people posting exactly the same comment two, three, or more times, no doubt because it didn't show up instantly. Calm down - it works. If you don't see it right away, you will in a few minutes.

2. No anonymous comments, please. Blogger recently upgraded its comments feature so that you can enter your name even if you're not a registered user. On-the-record comments are so much more credible than anonymous ones.

3. Don't insist on having the last word all the time. Point #1 is about comments that are literally repetitive. But let's try to watch comments that are substantively repetitive as well. You made your point. We got it. Don't be boring.

Many of the best blogs out there do not have an automatic comments feature. Josh Marshall doesn't. Kaus doesn't. Alterman doesn't. (Remember, he chooses the letters.) Somerby doesn't. I happen to like comments, but only if they add some value.

Thank you.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

BLOG ETHICAL DILEMMA XXIV. Is it okay for a blog to pass on unsubstantiated rumors from its readers? Does the standard change if said blog is acquired by a mainstream news organization?

Bruce Allen and Scott A. Benson raise some interesting questions about Boston Dirt Dogs, the raucous Red Sox fan site acquired last year by

TODAY'S MUST-READ. Kevin Cullen's piece in the Globe on the tragic deaths of Reggie Holman and his father, Sam.

BLOG ETHICAL DILEMMA XXV. The Herald's David Guarino reports on the Hiawatha Bray matter. This ain't over, folks. I hope to have more later today.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Is Jon Stewart too smart for his own good? Not as long as he keeps up the dick jokes.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

FREE SPEECH FOR JOURNALISTS. How much free speech is a journalist entitled to outside his or her own newsroom? It's a fascinating and difficult question. On the one hand, you have purists like Washington Post executive editor Len Downie, who is well known for not voting lest it sully his objectivity. On the other, there are journalists who contribute money to political candidates and think nothing of it. (Media Log's view: vote, yes; give money, no.)

The Internet has only made this more complicated. The latest example: Boston Globe technology columnist Hiawatha Bray, who is the subject of a hyperventilating piece on David Brock's watchdog site

The article reports that Bray wrote posts to several weblogs during the past presidential campaign criticizing John Kerry, praising George W. Bush, and passing along the claims of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which cast a number of aspersions on Kerry's record as a war hero. Virtually all of those aspersions were proven false, a fact that Bray seems not to have grasped.

The story has already been picked up by Raw Story and AlterNet, so Bray is definitely in for a few days of razzing. Good thing he wasn't cheerleading for Kerry, or Rush, Fox News, and the entire right blogosphere would be going berserk.

It looks like Bray won't be posting political comments in the future. When I asked him to respond to the Media Matters article, he referred me to Globe spokesman Al Larkin, who e-mailed to me the following statement:

Mr. Bray is a technology reporter and did not cover the presidential campaign, other than a minor technology-related story on very rare occasions. That said, his blog postings were inappropriate and in violation of our standards, and he was informed of that when we learned of them last Fall. Mr. Bray was instructed to discontinue any such postings, and to our knowledge he complied.

Mr. Bray was not a Globe reporter on the Swift Boat Veterans matter, the presidential primaries, or the general election campaign. Our coverage of those subjects should be judged on its own merits, and we are confident the coverage meets the standards of fairness, accuracy, and honesty.

The Globe's statement raises a larger issue: what constraints, if any, should there be on a journalist who wishes to share his political views in forums other than those provided by his employer? Clearly the Globe is taking the conservative approach, which it has a right to do. But is it the smartest course?

Bray, as it happens, has his own blog, It appears to be devoted entirely to tech issues. If you search for either "Kerry" or "Bush" for instance, you will get technology stories about the campaign, not political rants. But the matter of journalists having blogs not connected with their employers can be a contentious issue.

In 2003, Hartford Courant travel editor Denis Horgan was ordered to stop writing a personal blog in which he had been expressing his opinion on any number of subjects. Courant editor Brian Toolan told the trade magazine Editor & Publisher: "Denis Horgan's entire professional profile is a result of his attachment to the Hartford Courant, yet he has unilaterally created for himself a parallel journalistic universe where he'll do commentary on the institutions that the paper has to cover without any editing oversight by the Courant. That makes the paper vulnerable."

That led blogger-journalist J.D. Lasica to write in disdain: "Toolan and his merry band of control-niks believe that newsroom employees are chattel. We can't have journalists expressing views online because then someone somewhere might accuse them of not being wholly chaste, objective, devoid of opinions."

Journalists who do have their own independent blogs tread pretty carefully from what I've seen. An example: Hub Blog, by Boston Herald business reporter Jay Fitzgerald, a project Fitzgerald began before going to work at One Herald Square. Hub Blog is a worthwhile read, but Fitzgerald's online persona is pretty much the same as it is in print.

Increasingly, journalists write blogs for their own news organizations. Media Log is an example of that. But, like an independent blog, Media Log entries are not edited before I post them. Instead, my editor and I talk about what's working and what isn't, which is a kind of after-the-fact editing.

I've also been known to shoot my mouth off in such forums as Romenesko's letters page and Jay Rosen's PressThink blog. This is almost exactly analogous to what Hiawatha Bray did. The only difference is that Bray was expressing opinions that he could never get into the Globe, given his beat.

Unfortunately, these nuances are completely missing from the Media Matters article on Bray. The article claims that Bray covered the 2004 presidential campaign for the Globe, which (as the Globe statement notes) really isn't true; all he did was write a few stories on peripheral matters involving technology. The article closes by noting that the Globe is owned by the New York Times Company, and quotes from the Times' ethics policy:

Journalists have no place on the playing fields of politics. Staff members are entitled to vote, but they must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality or that of The Times. In particular, they may not campaign for, demonstrate for, or endorse candidates, ballot causes or efforts to enact legislation.

(Note: the Globe has its own ethics policy. The Times does not own the Globe; rather, the Times Company owns both the Times and the Globe.)

Bray, in his posts, not only raised but answered questions about his neutrality. But he doesn't cover politics, which means it's questionable as to whether he compromised his professional neutrality. It might be different, for instance, if he'd written online that Steve Ballmer is the Anti-Christ.

Moreover, Media Matters presents no evidence that Bray campaigned for, demonstrated for, or endorsed anyone. Rather, he was expressing his opinion. Should he be able to? I say yes, but his editors obviously disagree.