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Friday, December 06, 2002
Time for Bulger to go. UMass
Bulger took the Fifth this
morning rather than answer questions from a congressional committee.
I can't say I blame him: the committee, chaired by Vince
Foster obsessive Dan Burton,
had set a classic perjury trap for Bulger. If Bulger contradicted
anything he'd said before a federal grand jury nearly two years ago,
he could have been hit with perjury charges. He wasn't allowed to see
a transcript of his grand-jury testimony, even though a copy had been
leaked to the Globe. So his choice was to hope his memory was
perfect, or to keep his mouth shut.
That said, it's now time for Bulger
to resign. His failure to cooperate with an investigation of the
corrupt deal that the FBI made with his homicidal brother, James
"Whitey" Bulger, is understandable -- up to a point. But it's also
completely inconsistent with his status as one of the state's leading
public citizens, and with the need to learn the truth.
Besides, if Bulger leaves instead
of making a pathetic attempt to hang on, he may manage to accomplish
something that at one time would have been thought unimaginable: to
be held in higher public regard than Cardinal Bernard Law.
posted at 12:03 PM |
What's wrong with talk
radio? Onetime Boston City Council candidate Anthony Schinella,
now a reporter with Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell's
Community Newspaper chain, has written a
worthwhile column on the demise of talk
radio. (Inexplicably, his
byline got dumped, although maybe it will be restored by the time you
Schinella -- a liberal who's hosted
a talk show at Tufts's WMFO
Radio (91.5 FM), but could
never break into commercial radio -- laments the dominance of
conservatives on talk radio. The culprit, he argues, is deregulation,
which led to the demise of the Fairness Doctrine in the 1980s and the
horrendous Telecommunications Act of 1996, which allowed a few
megacorporations to gobble up most of the nation's radio
Normally, I'd be the first person
to scream "First Amendment!" But broadcasting is, as Schinella points
out, different: the reason it was regulated in the first place was
that it necessarily involved the government's parceling out a scarce,
publicly owned resource -- the airwaves -- to corporations that would
then turn around and use that public resource to make a profit.
Broadcasting, as Schinella notes, "is a closed market. Companies or
audiophiles can't just buy a transmitter and start broadcasting.
Well, they can -- but they will quickly find themselves in
In such an environment, it made
sense to require broadcasters to offer a variety of views in return
for being awarded a license to print money. Unfortunately, that
thinking no longer prevails. Free-market ideology rules, even though
the nature of the technology makes a true free market
Schinella also takes on another
Radio programmers say that
liberal talk show hosts can't make it because listeners don't want
to hear liberals on the radio. But in an area that is dominated by
a left-of-center voting population, these comments don't ring
true. As well, liberals have never actually been given a fair
opportunity to compete in the Boston.
I'll take it one step further.
Although there are few examples of successful liberal talk-radio
hosts in commercial radio, they have done quite well in public radio
-- which is, after all, essentially a privatized system dependent on
ratings, listener donations, and corporate underwriting, and is thus at least as sensitive to market pressures as commercial radio. Centrist and
liberal-leaning shows such as The Connection and On
Point, on WBUR
Radio (90.9 FM), have done
quite well, as has the nationally broadcast Talk of the
Indeed, former Connection
Lydon was among the most
popular talk hosts in Boston when he got dumped nearly two years ago
in the midst of an
incredibly ugly contract dispute.
The fact that he was unable to work out a deal with any of the city's
commercial stations speaks volumes about their priorities -- not so
much to keep liberals off the air, I would contend, as to maximize
profits with cheap, lowest-common-denominator programming.
continues apace. Paul
Krugman has a good column
in today's New York Times on the deregulatory zeal of FCC
chairman Michael Powell. And the Center
for Digital Democracy has
an excellent guide to what's at stake.
posted at 10:02 AM |
Thursday, December 05, 2002
Howell Raines's critics get to
howl. It's ironic that longstanding conservative criticism of
New York Times executive editor Howell Raines has come to a
head at the exact moment that liberals are finally beginning to speak
up about the conservative media.
In recent weeks the Times
has mounted a relentless, and incredibly boring, crusade to force the
Augusta National golf club to admit women. Newsweek's
Seth Mnookin reports all
the messy details, going so far as to quote an anonymous staff member
as saying that Raines is "in danger of losing the
Now we learn that Times
managing editor Gerald Boyd -- perhaps acting on Raines's order,
perhaps not -- killed two sports columns that took issue with
Raines's anti-Augusta crusade. Romenesko
has all the dirt, including
a defensive, self-serving memo from Boyd.
Almost from the moment that Raines was
elevated from editorial-page editor to executive editor, just before 9/11,
conservatives such as Andrew
Sullivan, as well as a few
moderates such as Mickey
Kaus, have railed against
his supposed liberal bias on issues ranging from welfare reform to
the Bush administration's regime-change policy with regard to
Of course, the Times has
always been the house organ of what Richard Nixon used to call the
Eastern liberal establishment. But the Times' brand of
liberalism was always polite, respectful, and not particularly
ideological. Under Raines, the critics charge, that liberalism has
become harsher and more confrontational.
Former Globe columnist (and
Bush cousin) John
Ellis has gone so far as to argue
that this new liberalism may even be good for business, as the media
marketplace may be changing from one that rewarded objectivity
(always a dubious concept) to one that favors different ideological
flavors for different audiences. (Ellis notes that those are merely
the views of a Smith Barney analyst he'd talked to, and that he's not
Recently the mediasphere has been
abuzz with the revelation that Fox
News chairman Roger Ailes
has functioned essentially as a political consultant to George W.
Bush, and with Al
Gore's interview with the New York
Observer, in which he
accurately described the relationship between the Republican National
Committee and such conservative news organizations as Fox, the
Washington Times, and Rush Limbaugh's radio
But it looks like conservatives
have managed to change the conversation once again. It's too bad that
Raines himself deserves much of the blame.
posted at 11:46 AM |
If you knew what we knew, then
you'd know what we know. Mitt Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom
today invokes the second-to-last refuge of a scoundrel in response to
veteran liberal policy advocate Jim St. George's contention that the
state budget crisis isn't as bad as Romney aides claim. (Patriotism,
of course, is the last refuge.) Fehrnstrom
told the Globe's Yvonne
If Jim St. George had
access to the same data we've been looking at, it would make his
hair stand on end. This is not the time to be playing politics by
downplaying the problems facing the Commonwealth.
No it isn't, Eric. So put those
numbers out there and let us all have a look.
posted at 11:45 AM |
Wednesday, December 04, 2002
Bulger and the Watermelon Man.
For US Representative Dan Burton, the past week has been like
magic. He has metamorphosed from right-wing nutcase to august
statesman, and all he had to do was issue a subpoena to UMass
president Bill Bulger.
Burton, famed for shooting up a
watermelon in his backyard as part of his so-called investigation of
Vince Foster's suicide (Knight-Ridder/Tribune News Service, 5/5/98),
and for attempting to subpoena Elian Gonzalez (UPI, 1/21/00), is now
being taken seriously for the sole reason that he's zeroed in on the
politician everyone loves to hate.
The editorial pages of the
and the Herald,
as well as Globe columnists Scot
Lehigh and Eileen
McNamara and Herald
Cohen, have all called on
Bulger to obey Burton's subpoena and tell his committee what he knows
about his serial-killer brother, former Boston mobster Whitey Bulger.
The only columnist who has leapt to Bulger's defense is the
I'll admit that I'm tempted to side
with McGrory -- to urge Bulger to tell the grandstanding Burton to
screw. There are two really odious aspects to this: the implication
that Bulger is somehow complicit in his brother's misdeeds, of which
there is no evidence; and, of course, Burton himself.
But, yes, Bill Bulger should
testify. Whitey Bulger, as we all know, was at the center of a vast
criminal conspiracy in which he and his gang were protected by the
FBI -- perhaps the worst scandal in the history of that
scandal-plagued agency. And Bill
Bulger's testimony to a federal grand
jury -- improperly leaked
to the Globe's Shelley Murphy, but fascinating nevertheless --
suggests that the Good Brother may have known a bit more about the
Bad Brother than he's ever admitted publicly.
Burton or not, this is a legitimate
inquiry. Bill Bulger should testify -- or be gone.
posted at 9:54 AM |
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
Starbucks versus Dunkin'
Donuts. The hell with politics. Let's talk about something really
important: coffee. Today, Globe business columnist
Stein -- after admitting
that he's "a non-coffee drinker" -- asserts that he can't understand
how Starbucks can thrive in the shadow of Dunkin' Donuts. "I can't
fathom why people are willing to pay $3 for coffee when the Dunkin'
Donuts down the street charges half as much," Stein writes. "But
customers are willing to pay up, even when money is
Charlie, since you admit that you
don't drink coffee, did you at least check the prices before you
blithely stated that a cup of Starbucks costs double that of the same
brew from DD? Now, I don't have a price list in front of me, but as a
frequent customer of both establishments, I can tell you, without
fear of having to post a correction later today, that a cup of
regular coffee costs pretty much the same at Starbucks as it does at
Dunkin' Donuts. Maybe Starbucks will set you back an extra quarter or
so, but it's worth it to be able to choose between dark roast and
mild, and to be able to add half-and-half and sugar to your own
liking rather than allowing some DD drone to turn your "regular" into
a lukewarm coffee milkshake.
What costs $3 and more at Starbucks
are those fancy espresso drinks, the lattès and cappuccinos
that Starbucks-haters are so fond of sneering at. But even at the
upper end of the menu, the prices at Dunkin' Donuts are nothing to
rave about. Starbucks's Frappuccino and DD's Coolatta are both
ridiculously expensive. But I've been into Dunkin' Donuts stores
where a Coolatta costs more than any Frappuccino. Plus, Frappuccinos
are great; Coolattas are revolting.
If you want more on the great
Starbucks-Dunkin' Donut debate -- and other than Charlie Stein, who
doesn't? -- check out the "Wicked
Good Guide to Coffee," at
posted at 9:11 AM |
Monday, December 02, 2002
Does Russert go both ways?
An alert reader sent me this gem, from the October 13 showing of
Meet the Press. Said Tim Russert to Lindsey Graham, the
Republican candidate for the US Senate from South Carolina (and the
eventual winner in the Strom Thurmond sweepstakes): "Since
Inauguration Day, the Dow Jones is down 26 percent. The unemployment
rate is up 33 percent. The budget had a $281 billion surplus. We now
have a $157 billion deficit and there's been a net loss of two
million jobs. You were prescient, prophetic about the Bush tax cut.
Why did you change your view and vote for it?"
Now, every honest liberal who
opposes the Bush tax cuts knows that they have scarcely had an impact
on the federal budget so far -- the impact will mainly be felt in
future years. So here Russert ascribes the effects of the bursting of
the stock-market bubble, the resultant recession, and the economic
fallout from 9/11 to the Bush tax cut and tries to hang it around
Graham's neck. This is just more disingenousness on Russert's part,
and I'm not surprised that the conservative Media
Research Center singled it
out as an example of liberal media bias. (I would provide the direct
link, but 10 minutes of futzing yielded nothing more than a
microscopic image of a PDF file.)
posted at 12:28 PM |
The early bird catches
Russert. Apparently I'm going to have to get up earlier if I want
to beat Bob Somerby. Today's
Daily Howler --
which I'm pretty sure was posted before my
Russert-Kerry item (below)
-- makes many of the same points. Worth reading.
posted at 11:29 AM |
Russert to Kerry: Why won't you
help the rich? I caught the last 15 minutes of Tim Russert's
interview with John Kerry last night when CNBC rebroadcast Meet
the Press. And what I saw was the host peppering Kerry with what
were essentially Republican talking points about tax cuts, and
intellectually dishonest ones at that.
Russert asked Kerry whether he
favored rolling back the Bush tax cut. Kerry -- trying to be a little
too cute for my taste, but nevertheless clear on what he wants --
essentially said, no, he wouldn't, but he would oppose "any new Bush
tax cuts," meaning that he would cancel cuts for future years that
have been approved by Congress but that have not yet taken effect.
Instead, Kerry said he favors a cut in the payroll tax --
i.e., the Social Security tax -- that would favor middle- and
lower-income workers, and would give an immediate jolt to the
It went downhill from there. Let's
go to the transcript:
MR. RUSSERT: But would you
implement the ones [tax cuts] that are now scheduled to
SEN. KERRY: Those are new tax
MR. RUSSERT: The Bush
administration says that is raising taxes because people
SEN. KERRY: Well, I don't care
what they say, Tim. The average American understands that a tax
cut that you don't have today is a new tax cut. It's not raising
taxes. I mean, at the same time, I told you, if you're told by NBC
that your pay is going to go up in a year but it doesn't go up
because they can't afford it, did you have a pay cut? The answer
is no you did not.
MR. RUSSERT: But the
SEN. KERRY: And in no way --
look, we can't cower in front of their silly argument that by not
being given a new tax cut it's an increase. No average American
believes that's an increase, and every American...
MR. RUSSERT: So when the
Republicans wanted to limit the growth in Medicare that should not
have been called a cut by Democrats.
SEN. KERRY: No. If you're
holding something at equal spending, but inflation is going up at
a rate above that, you're not keeping up with inflation, that is a
cut. That is in fact a cut, Tim. But the fact is that if you don't
get a tax reduction that is promised -- now, look, the heart of
this tax cut is in 10 years.
Did you catch the reference to
Medicare cuts? Back in the late 1990s, the Newt Gingrich-led
Republicans tried to cut Medicare. They protested loudly that all
they were proposing was a slowdown in the rate of growth, not an
actual cut. But, in fact, that slowdown would have required a cut in
services -- higher costs for senior citizens, less health care, or
both. Yet Russert compares a proposal that would have actually
reduced medical benefits for the elderly to tax
cuts for the wealthy that
have been passed but that haven't yet been implemented. Who was that
speaking into his earpiece? Karl Rove?
Russert then flashed on the screen
a quote backing across-the-board tax cuts: "In short, it is a
paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues
are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long
run is to cut its rates now." I instantly recognized the quote as
being from John F. Kennedy; I'm not sure whether Kerry did or not,
but when Russert smugly revealed his source a few moments later, he
acted as though it were an "ah, ha!" moment. Kerry didn't fall into
Russert's trap, but neither did he offer the most effective comeback:
that the top marginal tax rate when Kennedy came into office was
percent. Today it's less
than 40 percent, and will fall to 33 percent if all of the Bush cuts
Back to the transcript:
MR. RUSSERT: And the
people at the top end pay a disproportionate number of the tax
SEN. KERRY: Yes, they
MR. RUSSERT: Why would you deny
them a tax cut?
SEN. KERRY: We aren't. We gave
them a tax cut. We've given people a tax cut in the last few
years, Tim. The question is: Can we afford it now, measured
against the other needs of the country? If John Kennedy were here
today, I am convinced John Kennedy would feel we need to invest in
Look, we have 25 percent of our
kids, preschool, in poverty in America; 20 percent of our children
are in poverty in America.
MR. RUSSERT: But he
[Kennedy] gave an across-the-board tax cut...
SEN. KERRY: But...
MR. RUSSERT: ...wealthy and
middle class and poor.
SEN. KERRY: But, Tim, you can't
do it all at the same time. That was a different economic time.
That was a different moment. It also was preceded by a different
number of years under the Eisenhower administration, during which
we had a different economy. We have given tax cuts in the last few
years, but we have disinvested in America.
Later on, Russert asked Kerry, "But
won't you be branded another Massachusetts Ted Kennedy liberal?" He
surely will be if interviewers such as Russert are going to engage in
the kind of disingenuousness that he displayed on Sunday.
posted at 9:59 AM |
Sunday, December 01, 2002
A famously overused word. I
think it was when I hit upon the fourth occurrence of "famously" in
today's Globe that I threw up my hands and said, "Enough!"
(Well, actually, I neither threw up my hands nor said, "Enough!", but
you know what I mean.) "Famously" has become a verbal tic of first
resort for too many writers. The rule seems to be that if you're
describing something even moderately well-known, toss in a
"famously." Or, as with the Globe's description of the
vicious crocodiles" in Lake
Tanganyika, use it even if you're describing something not previously
known by a single one of your readers.
Using the Globe's search
engine, I came up with seven instances of "famously" today.
The other six: "the
famously liberal leanings of this
city" (in a piece on the
Cambridge school system); "He
... famously covered 'All Along the
Hendrix's 60th birthday); "the
famously staid precincts of Boston Common and Beacon
Hill" (a reminiscence of a
free Haight-Ashbury-style clinic during the late 1960s);
Overholser ... famously wrote in
1989" (on a 14-year-old
rape victim who has made the courageous decision to go public);
Mbeki ... famously rejected world medical opinion that AIDS is caused
by the HIV virus" (an
editorial on the AIDS epidemic in South Africa); "The
Beatles came, most famously, in the
'60s" (a piece on the roots of
By the way, that's two "famously"s
in the Ideas section alone. Perhaps, in addition to Ideas, they could
also use a Clue.
"Famously" has become a crutch for
writers either too lazy or too much in a hurry to come up with
something better. Try "memorably," "notoriously," "infamously," or --
and here's a truly radical idea -- no adverb at all.
posted at 10:03 AM |
MEDIA LOG ARCHIVES
Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.