The Boston Phoenix
December 18 - 25, 1997

[Don't Quote Me]

Defending the caveman

In praise of wife-beaters. Plus, sucking up to the Bee Gees, leftward ho at TNR, and more.

by Dan Kennedy

As Ronald Reagan once said, "Facts are stupid things." This week's example: Boston Globe sports columnist Will McDonough, whose weird December 6 effort to exonerate former Red Sox outfielder Wil Cordero of wife-beating charges (never mind that Cordero had already pleaded guilty) was undone within days by Cordero's recidivist tendencies.

McDonough offered up an affidavit filed by the concierge in the Cambridge apartment building where Cordero and his family were living last June, when Cordero was arrested and charged with beating his wife, Ana Echevarria, and threatening to kill her. The concierge said that he saw both principals several times during the night in question, and reported that they seemed sober, friendly, and uninjured.

"I will leave it to you to determine how this story became what it did in the media and in the Middlesex County District Attorney's office," McDonough wrote, satisfied that he'd made his case.

Of course, one explanation might be that the concierge's affidavit was completely contradicted by Cambridge police officers, who said that when they arrived on the scene they found Echevarria bruised, allegedly from being whacked with a telephone, and bleeding from the nose.

"She was crying. She was hyperventilating. She could barely speak," officer Sean Tierney reportedly said at the arraignment. He added that Cordero was "very angry."

McDonough's defense, such as it was, held up for all of six days -- until last Friday, when it was reported that authorities in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, had granted Echevarria a restraining order after she complained that Cordero, from whom she had separated, had threatened her.

One final observation. Last June 29 the Globe's Peter Gammons blamed local officials, the media, and Red Sox management for Cordero's ordeal, charging them with lacking "enough decency . . . to try to comprehend the cultural differences between here and the projects of Mayaguez, Puerto Rico."

Last week, Mayaguez authorities sent a message that, cultural differences or not, spousal abuse is taken as seriously there as it is in Cambridge.

Back in the 1950s, pioneering rock-and-roll disc jockey Alan Freed nearly went to prison for accepting payola. Today, in the brave new world of corporate radio, it's simply called synergy.

It might also be called the only way in hell those aging disco icons the Bee Gees are going to get any airplay.

In what could be a chilling sign of things to come, the radio trade magazine Hits reports that Chancellor Media, which owns 99 stations across the country, recently struck a deal with Bee Gees manager Allen Kovac to get the Gibb boys back in circulation whether listeners like it or not.

The deal requires 14 Chancellor stations -- including Boston's top-rated KISS 108 (WXKS, 107.9 FM) -- to play "Still Waters Run Deep," the single from the new album Still Waters, 120 times over a two-month period. Chancellor, in turn, gets exclusive rights to broadcast an upcoming Bee Gees concert -- a notably unimpressive payoff, perhaps, but a quid pro quo nevertheless.

The song, instantly forgettable soft funk, needs all the help it can get -- although, on the bright side, Barry, Robin, and Maurice sound somewhat less like Alvin and the Chipmunks than they did during their Saturday Night Fever heyday.

According to the playlist posted on KISS's Web site (, the Bee Gees haven't exactly been a threat to Chumbawamba. "Still Waters Run Deep" debuted on November 16 at No. 27, and within two weeks had staggered all the way up to No. 20. Pretty lame, given all those front-office-mandated spins. (Fun fact: the playlist is emblazoned with the slogan "It's Your Music, We Just Play It!!!")

KISS program director John Ivey defends the Chancellor deal as a way of letting listeners decide on a group that individual radio stations, acting on their own, might have believed was too unhip to be heard. He offers the example of Fleetwood Mac, virtually banned from radio before their MTV-fueled comeback proved the public still liked them.

Still, Ivey concedes the obvious when he says of the Bee Gees: "They've been a good friend of KISS, and you try not to forget loyalty, even when a band may no longer be at its peak."

Since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which virtually eliminated ownership restrictions, most of the country's 10,000 or so commercial radio stations have fallen to a handful of media conglomerates ("Sound and Fury," News, November 14). Boston-based radio consultant Donna Halper believes the Chancellor-Bee Gees deal is an early example of what will become a standard business practice in corporate radio.

"I'm afraid that we're going to see more of this," Halper says.

Since firing editor Michael Kelly this past September, New Republic editor-in-chief/chairman Martin Peretz has been inching back toward the magazine's liberal roots -- not so much in ideology, which remains eclectic, but rather in tone. Under new editor Charles Lane, there seems to be a renewed willingness to write about policy constructively instead of engaging in the ad hominem attack that was a hallmark not just of Kelly's brief tenure, but of the past dozen or so years. (For a sharp analysis of the magazine's descent from liberalism to nihilism, check out TNR alumnus Richard Blow's critique in the current Washington Monthly.)

Now TNR has returned to the scene of one of its worst crimes -- its drive-by shooting of the Clinton health-care plan -- and has managed to remove some chalk from the outline that still remains on the sidewalk.

In February 1994, then-editor Andrew Sullivan published a cover piece by conservative-think-tank analyst (and future New York lieutenant governor) Betsy McCaughey that played a big part in killing Clintoncare. But despite winning a National Magazine Award, McCaughey's caricature of the 1342-page bill as an oppressive, bureaucratic nightmare was loaded with the sort of errors that could have come right out of the insurance industry's coyly dishonest "Harry and Louise" ads -- as Michael Kinsley and Mickey Kaus, then both of TNR, and James Fallows, then of the Atlantic Monthly, later pointed out.

By contrast, this week's cover package, titled "Unhealthy Profits," is a model of progressive thinking. The lead piece, by Katherine Eban Finkelstein, a journalist who specializes in health-care policy, argues that the rising oligarchy of managed-care companies has created an uncaring, impersonal private system that's a mirror image of the uncaring, impersonal public system Clinton's critics warned of. (Although most of Finkelstein's case studies are psychiatric patients, the one who makes the most visceral impression is an 80-year-old man with prostate cancer. His doctor insisted on castration rather than hormone treatment because it's cheaper.) That piece is accompanied by a report by Susan Reed on how women -- because of gender-specific needs related to childbirth, gynecological care, and breast health -- are disproportionately burdened by the cost-cutting practices of HMOs.

Neither piece contains specific regulatory proposals. In fact, Finkelstein goes out of her way to beat the dead horse of the Clinton plan as "reminiscent of the bureaucratic dystopia in the movie Brazil." Still, it's encouraging to see TNR addressing the still-simmering health-care crisis from a liberal perspective.

Peretz's ouster of Kelly caused enormous short-term damage for TNR, since it was widely interpreted as a sign that Peretz would not abide any bashing of his friend Al Gore in the coming presidential campaign. Indeed, the Gore dilemma has yet to be addressed in a satisfactory way.

But if nothing else, the Kelly affair may have scared Peretz into moving left. After announcing that he acted because of Kelly's "rancor and enmity to the liberal idea" ("Don't Quote Me," News, September 12), Peretz can hardly afford to be seen overindulging his neocon tendencies.

At least not for a while.

With the 1998 political season about to get under way, the Boston Globe is making a few changes in some key positions.

The biggest change will take place at the State House. Congressional reporter Jill Zuckman will be moving from Capitol Hill to Beacon Hill, where she'll join veterans Scot Lehigh, Adrian Walker, and State House bureau chief Frank Phillips in covering the governor's race. In addition, Geeta Anand, soon to return from maternity leave, will switch from City Hall to the State House, replacing Doris Wong, who returns to the newsroom. Judy Rakowsky has already taken Anand's old slot at City Hall.

Zuckman's departure from Washington next month creates a vacancy that will be filled by Mary Leonard, who'll be finishing up her yearlong stint as the Sunday Focus writer. Leonard's previous position, that of deputy to Washington bureau chief David Shribman, is likely to be filled by Rosalind Jackler, currently the bureau's news editor.

Across town, Boston Herald political editor Joe Sciacca is getting ready to hire a new reporter who'll be based at City Hall, but who'll be available to help out Joe Battenfeld, Maggie Mulvihill, and State House bureau chief Carolyn Ryan with state political coverage. The Herald also plans to hire a new investigative reporter whose work will focus primarily on politics.

The American Prospect, the wonky "Journal for the Liberal Imagination" founded seven years ago by former Labor secretary Robert Reich, journalist Robert Kuttner, and sociologist Paul Starr, is aiming for the mainstream.

According to executive editor Scott Stossel, within about six months the magazine will unveil a new design and a shift in orientation aimed at expanding readership beyond its loyal base of policy nerds. The editors are also taking a serious look at publishing monthly rather than every other month. The goal: boosting circulation from its current 23,000 to 50,000 and beyond.

Stossel sees the Prospect's niche as equidistant between the centrist New Republic and the leftist Nation. "At this point there's a void," he says. "There's no definitive liberal policy magazine."

Dan Kennedy's work can be accessed from his Web site:

Dan Kennedy can be reached at

Articles from July 24, 1997 & before can be accessed here

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