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Notes and observations on the press, politics, culture, technology, and more. To sign up for e-mail delivery, click here. To send an e-mail to Dan Kennedy, click here. For bio, published work, and links to other blogs, visit www.dankennedy.net. For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Sex and the jealous columnist. Bob Somerby's Daily Howler has a hilarious, dead-on deconstruction of Brian McGrory's column on John Kerry that appeared in last Tuesday's Globe. Writes Somerby: "Baby Boy Brian is very upset because John scored some chicks in a bar." Not to be missed.

posted at 11:58 AM | link

Friday, January 17, 2003

It's Bill Gates's planet. The rest of us are just visiting. For many years now, I've been able to lead a digital life pretty much free of Microsoft's bloated, expensive products. I use a translation program called MacLinkPlus so that my MS Word-using editors can read my AppleWorks-generated files, and though the solution isn't perfect, it's been good enough.

Now, though, I'm dealing with an editor who wants me to be able to take advantage of Microsoft Word's "Track Changes" function. I've never seen it, never mind used it, but apparently it will allow him to make comments and changes on my files in one color, and for me to respond in yet another color. Actually, it sounds pretty cool. But no matter how we've tried to translate each other's files, it comes up in black and white on my screen.

The point is that the single biggest value of having a standard is that -- well, it's a standard. Much as I prefer AppleWorks, as long as 95 percent of the universe is using Word, my recalcitrance makes life more difficult both for my editors and myself. I probably can't hold out forever. And thus does Bill Gates chalk up another small victory.

Later today I'm going to try a free trial version of something called ThinkFree Office. It's supposed to be 100 percent file-compatible with Microsoft Office. Since this is something other Mac users would be interested in, I'll post a follow-up describing the results.

posted at 9:42 AM | link

Right-wing bias at the New York Times? Al Giordano has posted a fascinating inside look at the Times' coverage of the crisis in Venezuela. The article, on Giordano's NarcoNews.com website, reports that Caracas correspondent Francisco Toro has resigned because of his ties to the oligarchs who are attempting to overthrow Venezuela's democratically elected president, Hugo Chávez. And though the Times certainly was right to accept Toro's resignation, Giordano recounts a long list of incidents in which the Times has casts its editorial lot with the right-wing opposition.

posted at 9:41 AM | link

Free Ellis. John Ellis has posted his fine Wall Street Journal commentary on the future of AOL Time Warner on his weblog. If you're not an online subscriber to the WSJ, have a look.

posted at 9:41 AM | link

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Irony, incomprehension, and that Mary Jo Kopechne reference. One of the many fine touches in Charlie Pierce's recent Boston Globe Magazine profile of Ted Kennedy was this swift turn of the knife:

That's how you survive what he's survived. That's how you move forward, one step after another, even though your name is Edward Moore Kennedy. You work, always, as though your name were Edward Moore. If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.

Brutally vicious, yes; unfair, no. I certainly didn't think there was any mistaking Pierce's intent. And it was confirmed for me last Thursday, when James Taranto, in his "Best of the Web" column on OpinionJournal.com, wrote, "Charles Pierce must really hate Ted Kennedy," and described the excerpt above as a "paragraph of pure poison." Indeed, a letter published in the Globe Magazine last Sunday described Pierce's piece as "truth, even though it is a savage attack that strikes too close for comfort."

But it appears that not everyone got it. Last Saturday, former Globe columnist John Ellis ran just the last two sentences of the poison paragraph on his weblog under the heading "Only At The Globe" -- the implication being, I guess, that Ellis thought Pierce was an addle-brained bleeding-heart who believed Kennedy's lifetime of liberal legislating had wiped the slate clean with regard to his role in Kopechne's death.

On Monday, Ellis acknowledged that some of his readers had taken him to task for failing to get it, and he ran a lengthy e-mail from a friend of Pierce's. The next day, Jay Fitzgerald weighed in with a long post on the affair, and came down on Pierce's side -- that is, that the Kopechne reference was intended as harsh ironic criticism, not as expiation. For good measure, Fitzgerald included an e-mail from Ellis himself, who said he regarded Pierce's bit as "border-line obscene" and "a spurious line of reasoning." Hmm. Well, okay, but that's certainly not what I took away from the line "Only At The Globe."

Yet Ellis's misreading -- if that's what it was -- was minor compared to that of Mark Steyn, who wrote a column about Pierce's piece on Monday in Canada's National Post, which was passed on to me by a reader. Steyn quotes the same Kopechne excerpt and then adds:

... Mr. Pierce's point is a simple one: Sure, 34 years ago, Teddy fished himself out of the briny, staggered away and somehow neglected to inform the authorities until the following morning that he'd left some gal down there. But, if he was too tired to do anything for her back then, he's been "tireless" on her behalf ever since....

But among the orthodox left the Clymer/Pierce view is the standard line: You can't make an omelette without breaking chicks. This is subtly different from arguing that a man's personal failings are outweighed by his public successes. Rather, they're saying that a man's personal flaws are trumped by his ideological purity, regardless of whether or not it works. I doubt whether a 62-year-old Mary Jo would regard Senator Kennedy as "bringing comfort" to her old age.

(The Clymer reference is to New York Times reporter Adam Clymer's biography of Kennedy from several years back, once labeled by our only president as "a major-league asshole.")

Steyn not only doesn't get it, he twists Pierce's meaning beyond all possible recognition, making explicit what Ellis had seemed to suggest implicitly. Taken within context, Pierce is clearly, sneeringly saying that Kennedy's many small accomplishments over the years can never undo his reprehensible behavior at Chappaquiddick. Steyn, by contrast, asserts that Pierce gives Kennedy a free pass. I wonder whether he even read Pierce's entire article. Steyn is so sloppy that in his second sentence he describes Pierce's piece as "a 10,000-word profile." It is, in fact, about 8700 words. Not a big deal, but why say it if you can't be bothered to get it right?

I sent Pierce an e-mail yesterday asking him to comment. Here's his reply:

As to Ellis, whom I assume is the Bush cousin whose WSJ piece you mentioned on Wednesday, well, we knew from Fox News that he couldn't count honestly. Now we know he can't read honestly, either. [Media Log aside: Whoa!] As for young Mr. Steyn -- what can I say? If he was Navajo, I'd blame it on the peyote. My respect for Mr. Taranto grows by the hour.

Pierce adds that he may write about this tomorrow when he fills in for Eric Alterman on his Altercation blog. Should be interesting.

posted at 10:17 AM | link

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Oh, yes he did. Some curious backtracking today about the investigation into Pete Townshend's visits to child-pornography websites. (He admits that it's true, so no "alleged.") Today's New York Times update includes this weasel paragraph:

Mr. Townshend, who says he suspects he was abused as a child, said he had viewed child pornography on the Internet -- but had not downloaded it -- while researching his autobiography and as part of his longtime campaign against child sexual abuse.

The Boston Globe ran a correction on page A2, blaming it all on the Associated Press and adding: "Townshend said only that he had used his credit card to enter the site and told a London newspaper he had never downloaded child pornography." And, yes, the AP has "corrected" its original report.

Geez. Don't these people know anything?

If Townshend "viewed child pornography on the Internet," as the Times reports, then he downloaded it. Every page you visit on the Web downloads to your computer. When the little "E" or "N" is moving in the upper right corner of Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, it's telling you that the page you've requested is in the process of being -- yes -- downloaded.

Townsend apparently means that he didn't save any of the images he'd downloaded to his hard drive, but that's a distinction without a difference. As his lawyer has no doubt explained to him by now, the images he admits to having looked at may actually be on his hard drive, whether he realizes it or not. Unfortunately for Townshend, his computer is currently in the hands of the authorities.

If the editors at the AP, the Times, and the Globe had an ounce of understanding about the way the Internet works, they would have realized that no correction or clarification was needed.

posted at 9:43 AM | link

John Ellis's Case history. Former Globe columnist John Ellis has a terrific piece on the post-Steve Case future of AOL Time Warner that appears on the editorial page of today's Wall Street Journal. Paul Gigot must agree, since it's been left off the free OpinionJournal.com site and is available to paid subscribers only. (In case you do subscribe, here's the link.) Here's my favorite part:

The notion that the company can now coalesce around a common purpose is laughable. Time Warner has always been about egomaniacs running fiefdoms and raiding each other's turf. Division heads collaborate only to kill off rivals. They collaborated to kill off former COO Robert Pittman and Chairman Case. Now they'll start on each other.

posted at 9:42 AM | link

Baby maybe, doggie definitely. One way to tell whether or not a couple ought to be allowed to adopt a child is if they would choose a dog over a baby. Maybe the state has no right to tell prospective parents that they can't have a German shepherd in the house. But it is one way to sort out the ones who are serious from the ones who aren't.

Kathleen Brophy and Maria Melchionda chose their dog over a baby. That's fine. But would someone please tell them to shut up?

posted at 9:41 AM | link

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

BU J-school prof: Edit pages are partisan. Get over it. The Globe's Mark Jurkowitz today has an overview on the controversy at the Herald over the hiring of longtime Republican politico Virginia Buckingham as deputy editorial-page editor. The editor of CommonWealth magazine, Bob Keough, gets off the best quote, telling Jurkowitz, "If she were going to get a desk in the newsrooom, that would be a problem. I'm not sure it raises that many red flags to be on the editorial page." But Buckingham made me wince in saying, "My dream has always been to pursue a writing career," which only highlights the yawning gap between her complete lack of experience and the plum job she's been handed.

Meanwhile, Boston University journalism professor Mike Berlin can't understand what all the fuss is about. He sent a long and thoughtful e-mail to Media Log, which appears below:

I heard about the Buckingham conflict at the Herald on "Beat the Press," and found myself quite puzzled about why reporters took it upon themselves to voice a protest, and what conflicts of interest there could possibly be for a person whose job it is to reflect the views of the publisher/owner and commit those views to print.

When your boss writes about expanding Fenway Park to swallow the Phoenix office, there are conflicts of interest inherent in his viewpoint. But as the owner he is entitled to express it in an editorial or have an editorial writer express it for him, and since they are his views, it doesn't much matter who the writer may be.

If he were a former state commissioner with some link to a party or a faction, one would expect him to reflect the viewpoint of that party or faction, very much the way that Herald publisher Pat Purcell is linked to various people, issues and ideology and is expected to reflect that viewpoint on the editorial page of the Herald, or through the people he chooses to hire to do the writing for him. If they can't write very well, then that's his problem, and perhaps he will get an editor to look over their copy before it runs, or perhaps he won't and people will think less of his views because they are not well expressed.

Readers should be aware that the editorial page reflects the views of the owner. If they are not aware, that is their lookout, not his. He already has an ideologue of his choosing as the editor of the page, and columnists who reflect the views he wishes to have expressed. It should be clear where the Herald stands. If Purcell is generous enough to listen to other voices before expressing the paper's views, that may be a bonus, but no one should expect it.

But you want people on the edit page who have strong opinions and advocate causes, not people who are neutral, cautious and dull, and write editorials that waffle and don't come down on one side or another.

But why should this matter to the reporters? Their concern is to maintain the wall between news pages and editorial pages; ensure that readers are aware of the difference; and fight to prevent the editorial-page views from slopping into their own copy and their editors' news choices. That is what they should be fighting for. When I worked at Dolly Schiff's New York Post, Paul Sann, the executive edtior, reveled in running stories that made Dolly's viewpoints, and thus Jimmy Wechsler's editorials, look silly. It was his way of showing the city that the news/editorial wall was impregnable.

The bad rap on Rupert Murdoch and his style of journalism is not that he hired frothers-at-the-mouth to run his edit page and sound like ideologues. That was well within the American tradition. The problem with his journalism was that he didn't let the news pages run on the basis of journalistic choices, but forced out stuff that he didn't like editorially (stories about environmental threats, or stories that made Jimmy Carter look good) and forced in stories that were politicized. And in a modified form, that remains true today of both Boston newspapers; readers do think that they pull punches on news stories to match editorial-page views.

By protesting the choice of an edit writer, Herald reporters are suggesting to the public that what is printed there does in fact tarnish the news coverage. They are admitting a link that they should be rejecting and denying.

I speak as someone who wrote edits as a summer replacement both under Dolly and under Rupert, when he attended the weekly editorial meeting personally and had long arguments with Jimmy Wechsler about abortion, afffirmative action and other issues (he was against capital punishment) and then went back to my job as a reporter, fighting as best I could to get stuff into the paper that the boss wouldn't like, and to keep stuff out of the paper that was propaganda for the boss's pet projects.

Buckingham is simply a reminder that all editorial pages are appropriately opinionated, slanted, biased, and reflect the viewpoint of the owner (or the owner's willingness to allow a range of viewpoints to be expressed), rather than fair and balanced and open to all viewpoints, as the news pages should be.

posted at 9:28 AM | link

Media Log goes policy wonk! People don't want smaller government and lower taxes. They want bigger government and lower taxes. They want it all, and they want it right now. Politicians can choose between trying to explain that, you know, stuff costs money, or they can pander. The latter is a sure route to success. Mitt Romney last year pandered his way right into the corner office.

During the campaign, Romney said he could close the state's gaping budget deficit by putting his world-class management skills to work, by slashing the bureaucracy and eliminating duplication while not raising taxes and not cutting "essential" services. (Essential services are things that you need. Non-essential services are things that somebody else needs.) Of course he couldn't, and he began backtracking the moment he was elected.

Now he wants the legislature to give him the authority to cut local aid to the bone, which will force schools to close early and police officers and firefighters to be laid off. (Click here for today's Globe coverage, and here for today's Herald coverage.)

Since the legislators lack both guts and brains, they're almost certain to go along, notwithstanding their plaintive cry to Romney to explain what he's got in mind. But they shouldn't. Here's what they ought to do:

  • Borrow the $600 million needed to get through the rest of the fiscal year without any further cuts.
  • Reform the state tax system. That means going ahead with the voter-approved mandate to return the state income tax to five percent, but rethinking and possibly repealing the $3 billion to $4 billion in tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy that were passed during the 1990s. That's where the money is. Here's a good place to start: reversing the special-interest tax break that Fidelity got in the mid-'90s. Wonder what former Fidelity executive Robert Pozen -- currently receiving all kinds of praise for serving in the Romney administration without pay -- would think about that?
  • Go after the hackerama head-on. Today's Herald reports that MDC commissioner David Balfour continues to run amok, and that virtually the first act of Tim for Treasurer was to reward one of Tom Finneran's coat-holders with the six-figure job of "running" the Lottery. Ugh.

posted at 9:27 AM | link

Monday, January 13, 2003

Give Buckingham a chance. She has no obvious qualifications, as I wrote last month. Her conflicts of interest make one's head spin, as Northeastern University School of Journalism director Steve Burgard argues. Certain elements of the newsroom are skeptical, to put it mildly (third item). But the Herald today, as expected, announced that former Massport director and Republican political operative Virginia Buckingham will be the paper's new deputy editorial-page editor.

So let me be counterintuitive for a moment. Buckingham is young, smart, and hardworking. She's a moderate conservative, presumably live-and-let-live on cultural issues. One fear is that she'll serve as a mole -- a back channel from the Herald to her Republican friends. But is that really fair? After 9/11, Buckingham was pretty much hung out to dry by everyone. The Weld-Cellucci-Swift crowd (though not Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci themselves) piled on. As for the new crowd, Mitt Romney has surrounded himself with aides to former state treasurer Joe Malone, against whom Buckingham fought as a top political aide to Cellucci in 1998.

In other words, there's every reason to believe that Buckingham is finished with politics and wants to do a good job at the Herald. She deserves a chance to prove it.

posted at 9:37 AM | link

Steve Case's amazing swindle. Steve Case's epitaph is that bamboozling Time Warner -- the largest media company in the world -- was an insufficient qualification for running it. Case quit as chairman of AOL Time Warner last night because the company's stock price has tanked since Case's AOL acquired Time Warner two years ago.

But as James Surowiecki observed in the New Yorker a few months ago (no link; I'm going by memory here, so bear with me), Case actually did spectacularly well by his shareholders -- that is, the folks who held hyperinflated AOL stock before the merger. AOL Time Warner's stock at this moment is $14.88, which is a lot lower than the $56 or so that it commanded at the time of the merger. But if Case hadn't gone out and bought a real company with his pile of AOL funny money, his crappy and outmoded online service would probably be trading for less than $5 right now.

Of course, the real reason I'm writing this item is so that I can recycle a bit from Tina Brown's debut column last fall in the Times of London, in which she quoted Time magazine art critic Robert Hughes's priceless letter to former Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin, the man who, more than anyone, got swindled by Case. Hughes's letter begins:

How can I convey to you the disgust which your name awakens in me? The merger with Warner was a catastrophe. But the hitherto unimagined stupidity, the blind arrogance of your deal with Case simply beggars description.

How can you face yourself knowing how much history, value and savings you have thrown away on your mad, ignorant attempt to merge with a wretched dial-up ISP? . . .

I don't know what advice you have to offer, but I have some for you. Buy some rope, go out the back, find a tree and hang yourself. If you had any honour you would.

Is that great or what? Thanks to Joe Conason for the link.

posted at 9:31 AM | link


Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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