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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To post a comment that may be used in a future installment of Media Log, or to request e-mail delivery, contact dkennedy[a]

Saturday, November 02, 2002

Fritz ducks killer bugs! Hurry! This could change by the time you read it. But right now, Drudge has a weird and wonderful juxtaposition of headlines. His banner: "EXPERTS WARN: 'SUPERFLU' COULD KILL HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS." The kicker: "MONDALE DOESN'T SHOW AT DEBATE ..." All that's missing is a reference to Mondale's age.

posted at 10:19 AM | link

Friday, November 01, 2002

The Florida fiasco revisited. WGBH-TV (Channel 2) will air Danny Schechter's documentary on the fiasco in Florida, Counting on Democracy, tonight from 10 to 11. Schechter, well-known in Boston from his days as the "News Dissector" on the old WBCN Radio, wrote about his efforts to get PBS to run Counting on Democracy a couple of weeks ago in the Boston Phoenix. Although he's had no luck with the network, at least Boston's public television outlet has agreed to show it, and in prime time no less.

Counting on Democracy convincingly demonstrates that the presidential election in Florida ended in a virtual tie only because a massive and corrupt disenfranchisement of African-American voters cost Al Gore a decisive victory over George W. Bush. You can learn more about Counting on Democracy by clicking here; choose "Watch a Scene," and you'll be able to see a clip that, among other things, features an interview with yours truly. I was included because of a piece I wrote on African-American disenfranchisement after the US Supreme Court had declared Bush the president-elect.

Two years after Bush was made president despite losing the popular election by a half-million votes and despite the dubious outcome in Florida, this misfiring of democracy remains an open wound. Josh Marshall today points to an excellent commentary by the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg on Bush's bizarre "victory," and on Gore's subsequent silence -- a refusal to "accept ... the responsibility that his popular-vote victory had laid upon him."

Being denied a Gore presidency isn't worth one shed tear or one lost moment's sleep. What happened to our electoral system two years ago, though, remains something to ponder and even mourn.

posted at 4:10 PM | link

Cutting back at the Prospect. The Globe's Mark Jurkowitz today reveals that the liberal American Prospect will soon move from a biweekly to a monthly publication schedule. New executive editor (and former Globe publisher) Ben Taylor -- whose hiring was reported exclusively in Media Log yesterday (okay, okay, the Prospect's own website got there first) -- tells Jurkowitz, "It's a more natural schedule. I think we can do a good job in a monthly format.''

posted at 9:42 AM | link

Macero: Romney lied. Globe columnist Brian McGrory this morning is outraged because "Shannon O'Brien call[ed] Mitt Romney a liar in Tuesday's debate." Brian, could it be because ... he lied? The Herald's Cosmo Macero, no flaming liberal, writes today:

I felt like throwing the TV out the window the other night when Shannon O'Brien had the nerve to call Mitt Romney a liar in their final debate.

And then the darndest thing happened: Mitt lied.

No two ways about it, Romney pledged back in August to try to squeeze $1.7 billion in additional Medicaid reimbursements from the federal government.

Romney's flat-out denial that he'd ever said such a thing was and is a shocking breach of debate protocol -- far worse than finger-wagging, interrupting, and smirking, the O'Brien tics that tick McGrory off so much. O'Brien's attempts to evade answering questions about tax hikes were visible for all to see, and voters can judge her accordingly. But by lying about his past statements on live television, Romney calls into question the very purpose of having debates. Yes, the O'Brien campaign was able to refute Romney's refutation after the debate. But the average viewer probably came away convinced that O'Brien had leveled a reckless charge against Romney, and that Romney had skillfully swatted it away. Ugly stuff.

posted at 9:41 AM | link

Thursday, October 31, 2002

Taylor made for the Prospect. The American Prospect today announced a huge move at the top of its always-tumultuous masthead. Former Boston Globe publisher Benjamin Taylor will become the new executive editor, replacing Harold Meyerson, who had moved over to an editor-at-large slot sometime earlier. (Actually, yet another person briefly occupied the executive editor's chair between Meyerson and Taylor, but that's hardly worth a mention.) The official announcement from Prospect publisher Robin Hutson:

The American Prospect has named Benjamin B. Taylor its new Executive Editor. Mr. Taylor was previously Executive Editor (and subsequently Publisher) of the Boston Globe. Ben's 17-year reporting career at the Globe included stints as a political reporter, metro editor, and four years in the Globe's Washington bureau where he covered Congress and the White House. He served as Publisher of the Globe between 1997 and 2000 [actually 1999].

Taylor, an affable but guarded old-fashioned Yankee, lost his hereditary title at the Globe when he was summarily dismissed by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the chairman of the New York Times Company, to which the Taylors had sold their heirloom some six years earlier for the then-unheard-of price of $1.1 billion. Taylor's role at the Prospect -- a liberal biweekly whose ideological niche lies at the midpoint between the neoliberal New Republic and the left-liberal Nation -- will no doubt be to serve as the designated adult, an approachable uncle who'll keep the staff's contact with crotchety co-editor Robert Kuttner to a minimum.

Meyerson himself is a former executive editor of the alternative LA Weekly who was named executive editor in 2001 in a bid to boost the Prospect's Washington presence.

The Prospect's most important financial backer, Bill Moyers, has reportedly been seeking to cut his losses in recent months, according to Slate's Mickey Kaus. (Click here and check out the item for Monday, May 13.) Moyers will like the gentlemanly Taylor -- no small consideration given that Moyers has apparently considered cutting funding to the point where the Prospect would have to dial back on its publication schedule.

posted at 2:50 PM | link

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Mitt in his own words.

"Romney promised to lobby to make Medicaid a level playing field for all states. Currently, federal reimbursements rates range from 50 percent, which is the rate in Massachusetts, to 77 percent, which is the rate paid in some southern and western states. If Massachusetts received 77 percent federal reimbursement, the state's federal share would increase by over $1.7 billion annually, he said."

-- Romney campaign press release, August 6, 2002

"Well, it's a fantasy number, but you're the one throwing it out there. I haven't said I'm going to get $1.7 billion from the federal government. I have not said that, and that would be an absurd number to get from Medicaid. I'd love to get it, but I don't think that's a number that's realistic. I do think, however, that it's not appropriate that if you look at the reimbursement rates for all the states in terms of Medicaid dollars, that we get 50 cents on the dollar returned for our people who are poor whereas other states get as high as 77 cents. So what I would like to do is find a way for us to get up to the level that some of the other states have been able to accomplish."

-- Romney to O'Brien, October 29, 2002

posted at 7:49 PM | link

It depends on what the meaning of $1.7 billion is. One of the worst moments for Shannon O'Brien last night was when she accused Mitt Romney of claiming he'd get the feds to boost Medicaid payments to the state by some $1.7 billion. It was, she said, a perfect example of Romney's proclivity for pulling numbers out of thin air. Romney looked at her with that hang-dog expression of his and sorrowfully intoned that he had never, ever said any such thing; that the notion that he could somehow talk the federal government into forking over another $1.7 billion was ridiculous; and that it was just sad that she would make up such a ludicrous accusation.

Romney was utterly convincing. I was horrified, assuming that O'Brien's staff had made an egregious error and left the candidate with her mouth hanging open.

Well, now. Along comes the Phoenix's Seth Gitell today to show that O'Brien did, indeed, know what she was talking about -- that Romney really had suggested that he could come home with another $1.7 billion. O'Brien's team produced a Romney press release to that effect after the debate.

Then there's this, from a Stephanie Ebbert piece in the Globe on August 7:

He [Romney] also focused heavily on Massachusetts' low federal reimbursement rate of roughly 50 percent, saying Massachusetts needs to increase its share of federal funding. He suggested politics were at play and he could negotiate a better rate; a 77 percent reimbursement would raise $1.7 billion annually, he said.

Has Romney no shame?

posted at 11:22 AM | link

Debate detritus. Shannon O'Brien, what I liked most about you in last night's debate were those shoulder pads. If I were the quarterback and I saw you coming after me, I would ditch that football as fast as I could. And yes, I would love to see your tattoo. Mitt Romney, what I liked most about you was that ghoulish make-up, slathered on two days before Halloween so that you could scare the kids who happened to stumble on you and Shannon instead of SpongeBob SquarePants.

What I liked least about both of you was your mindless insistence on arguing about things that aren't relevant to the public. It's not that I don't like negative campaigning. Quite the contrary -- I love negative campaigning. But it ought to be over what challenges the next governor is facing, not impenetrable accusations about each other's minuscule roles in corporate malfeasance. And even though I share O'Brien's suspicion (to cite one example) that Romney does not, in his heart of hearts, believe in a woman's right to choose, he's laid out such an unambiguous pro-choice stance that it would be impossible for him to back down. As Romney reminded viewers last night, O'Brien hasn't always been pro-choice, either.

If nothing else, last night was a good show. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell's decision to bring in celebrity interviewer Tim Russert as the moderator provided to be inspired. As Mark Jurkowitz notes in today's Globe, Russert did a better job of keeping them focused on issues (if not necessarily the issues) than anyone else has been able to manage. Still, I would have preferred a local moderator -- say, someone like David Brudnoy or Christopher Lydon. At one point, Russert repeatedly pressed O'Brien on whether she would ease Proposition 2 1/2 to allow financially pressed cities and towns to raise their property taxes. Trouble was, Russert seemed not to know that they already can, through a local referendum. And Jurkowitz confirms that it wasn't just my imagination: Russert really did pronounce House Speaker Tom Finneran's name as "Finnernan."

Though it would be hard to pick a winner in this debate, I guess I'd have to give it to Romney on style. The guy who couldn't even best the barely coherent Ted Kennedy eight years ago struck upon a fairly effective approach last night, as Joe Battenfeld notes in the Herald. To paraphrase the old lawyer's saw, when he could argue the facts, he argued the facts; when he couldn't argue the facts, he argued politics; and when he couldn't argue politics, he looked mournfully at O'Brien and said, Oh, Shannon, Shannon, Shannon, that's so unbecoming; can't we elevate the tone just a bit? Sure it was disingenuous, but in the final days of a campaign you're trying to win over the undecideds -- the least interested and least knowledgeable members of the voting public. They're going to remember Romney's wounded tone long after they've forgotten what O'Brien claims is on pages seven and 11 of Romney's position papers. O'Brien's been pulling her 7-Eleven stunt for weeks now, and it hasn't worked yet. No surprise there: by her own telling, Romney has proposed taxes to discourage SUV ownership and development that would encroach on open space. All she's succeeded in doing is making Romney look like a better environmentalist than she.

One thing that did work in O'Brien's favor last night was the absence of Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the only one of the three "other" candidates to make much of a favorable impression to date. Stein's presence in two previous debates served mainly to remind liberals how short O'Brien falls of the progressive nirvana they seek. Without Stein, O'Brien was able to posit herself as a far more reliable defender of liberal values than Romney. For all her centrist mush, O'Brien managed to make it clear last night that she would protect us from the dehumanizing evil of capital punishment, and would assent, however reluctantly, to another tax increase before she would dismantle public education or destroy programs on which senior citizens depend. The Globe editorial page, which has already endorsed O'Brien, declares her the winner on points. That's probably about right. The question is how many viewers were keeping score.

posted at 7:48 AM | link

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

The two Thomas Jeffersons. Part one of Ken Burns's documentary on Thomas Jefferson aired last night on WGBH-TV (Channel 2), and it was a worthwhile 80 minutes. This is the first major Jefferson project to be put before the public since the revisionist view of him set in. These days, we are as likely to think of Jefferson's vanity and weakness (thanks to David McCullough's biography of John Adams), and of his probable dalliance with one of his slaves, Sally Hemings, as we are of the towering visionary who wrote the Declaration of Independence. Burns deals with both Jeffersons, and asks a central question to which there is perhaps no good answer: can Jefferson's genius and some of his less-sterling personal attributes be reconciled, or was he a hopeless hypocrite?

On the PBS website, Burns asks the historian John Hope Franklin, an African-American, whether Jefferson's contradictions made him a "tragic figure." Franklin gives as good an answer as we're likely to get:

No, I don't see Jefferson as a tragic figure for these contradictions. For most men are -- and women are -- a bundle of contradictions. Despite the fact that we are endowed with reason, and despite the fact that we regard ourselves as rational beings, we at the same time have contradictions within our lives, within our beliefs, within our practices which, if we analyze it very closely, would perhaps be tragic inasmuch sense as Jefferson's contradictions were tragic. I think it's a part of the character of humankind to go off in different directions, to have different beliefs, some of which contradict each other, some of which complement each other. And when they contradict each other, it is not so much a tragedy as it is a human quality.

Jefferson was a great thinker and a great writer. He was hardly unusual in his failure to live up to his own ideals.

posted at 9:24 AM | link

Monday, October 28, 2002

Barbara Anderson battles health woes. Excellent story in today's Salem News on anti-tax crusader Barbara Anderson's battle with cancer. [Whoops! Link gone as of Tuesday a.m.] Anderson's health woes are no secret, but she opens up more with reporter Alan Burke than I've seen elsewhere, disclosing that she came close to dying twice in the past year. She talks about waking up in the hospital and finding her two ex-husbands, an ex-boyfriend, and her current boyfriend in her room. "And they all got along," she says. Anderson's fierce tax-slashing crusades made her the activist that liberals love to hate, but her two-decades-long defense of Proposition 2 1/2 has been immense in preserving Massachusetts's quality of life. She was one of the two most significant unelected political figures here in the 1980s, the other being now-retired radio talk-show host Jerry Williams, a frequent Anderson ally. Her relevance waned in the '90s only because Republican governors Bill Weld, Paul Cellucci, and Jane Swift made her no-new-taxes mantra their own. If you can afford to live here, thank Barbara Anderson.

posted at 7:02 PM | link

Let 100 papers bloom III. The Framingham-based MetroWest Daily News, the flagship and by far the largest (circulation: about 54,000) of Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell's 100-plus community newspapers, has endorsed Democrat Shannon O'Brien for governor. That, finally, ought to put to rest the conspiracy theories that Purcell had allowed a few of his weeklies to endorse the Green Party's Jill Stein for the sole purpose of hurting O'Brien and helping Republican Mitt Romney.

posted at 2:00 PM | link

Big brains back online. Arts & Letters Daily, the egghead portal that died when Lingua Franca went belly-up, is back, as enticing and daunting as ever -- maybe even more daunting, given that it appears to have undergone a subtle redesign with a smaller typeface. This is good news. ALD -- rescued last Friday by the Chronicle of Higher Education -- functions as sort of a Romenesko for intellectuals, and though Media Log hardly claims to be an intellectual, it's useful to be able to see what academia is chattering about. Random links today: Gore Vidal claiming that George W. Bush knew 9/11 was coming, from London's Observer; two attacks on Daniel Goldhagen's attack on Pope Pius XII, in the Weekly Standard and London's Telegraph; and Judith Shulevitz's essay on Harold Bloom, which appears in this week's New York Times Book Review. Yikes! Hand me the sports section.

posted at 9:37 AM | link

Sunday, October 27, 2002

The instant-runoff bandwagon gains another passenger. Nice to see Globe columnist Eileen McNamara jump on the bandwagon today in writing that the instant runoff would make it oh-so-much-easier for liberals to choose between Democrat Shannon O'Brien and the Green Party's Jill Stein. (Click here, here, and here for my past bleatings on the issue.) Give Eileen a comfy seat -- there's plenty of room up here!

Here's how the instant runoff would work in the Massachusetts gubernatorial race. There are five candidates on the ballot. You would rank them in order of preference, one through five. Or you could cast a vote just for the one candidate you like. Or you could choose a first and a second, and leave it at that. The likely result in Massachusetts is that a lot of liberals would vote for Stein first and O'Brien second. A few anti-tax, pro-gun extremists on the Republican side might vote for Libertarian Carla Howell first and Republican Mitt Romney second. (Sorry, Barbara Johnson, but I cannot envision any scenario under which the instant runoff would help you.)

What's great about the instant runoff is that you could give your first vote to the candidate you really want and the second to the candidate you could live with. As it stands now, of course, every vote for Stein is essentially a vote for Romney. With the instant runoff, if Stein didn't actually win, her votes would go to whoever her supporters had designated as their second choice. In most cases, presumably, that would be O'Brien. And if it turned out that O'Brien's margin of victory had come from Stein supporters, then O'Brien would have a powerful incentive to tend to her liberal wing as governor.

It's easy to imagine how two recent presidential races would have turned out differently if the instant runoff had been in effect. In 2000, many of Ralph Nader's supporters would almost certainly have designed Al Gore as their second choice, ensuring Gore's victory. And just to show that this doesn't always go one way (that is, to the left), in 1992, I'll bet that a majority of Ross Perot voters would have marked George Bush the Elder as their number two, thus depriving us of a Bill Clinton presidency for another four years (at least).

Of course, there are unintended consequences to everything, and it's easy to think of a big one if the instant runoff were to become a reality. There's something about the winner-take-all system that forces voters to think like adults -- to put some real effort into deciding not just who they find the most likable or ideologically compatible, but who is actually the most capable of doing the job. I can foresee ways in which the instant runoff would trivialize voting, in which people would designate a fringe or protest candidate as number one and a more serious candidate as number two. Too much of this behavior and the fringe candidate might actually win. Again, consider Stein and O'Brien. If you think Stein would actually be a better governor than O'Brien, well then by all means you should vote for Stein. But if you really think O'Brien would make a more able, competent governor, then it would be frivolous to vote for Stein as your first choice and O'Brien as your second for the sole purpose of sending a message to O'Brien.

Give the instant runoff a try. But let's not assume it's going to be the answer to all of our problems.

posted at 8:20 AM | link

Weird but strange. In the middle of today's Globe endorsement of the Shannon O'Brien/Chris Gabrieli ticket is this bizarre phrase: "strong but workable." As in:

Partly thanks to Gabrieli, a policy omnivore, the Democratic ticket has advanced several strong but workable approaches to the economy, education, and health care.

Try rolling "weak and workable" around your tongue. Or "strong and impractical." Isn't anyone thinking over there?

posted at 8:19 AM | link


Boston Phoenix senior writer Dan Kennedy is writing Media Log while on leave. He is working on a book, tentatively titled Little People: A Father Reflects on His Daughter's Dwarfism -- and What It Means to Be Different, to be published by Rodale in the fall of 2003. His archives and links to published works can be found at

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