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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, April 12, 2003

A different take on the plutonium story. Several Media Log readers have called my attention to a piece that casts the "weapons-grade plutonium" story in a different light.

Mansoor Ijaz has written a lengthy post for National Review Online suggesting that several facts about the facility south of Baghdad really do point to the possibility of some extremely scary activities on the part of Saddam Hussein.

Here is a bio of Ijaz. Clearly he is a serious and knowledgeable person.

Not that this makes Fox News's original report any less speculative or irresponsible, by the way. Ijaz himself is engaging in speculation; but it appears to be informed speculation that a discerning reader can take for what it is. Fox was simply engaging in sensationalism.

Thanks to HM and DH for leading me to Ijaz's post.

posted at 9:52 PM | link

Friday, April 11, 2003

Back on top. Now that Saddam Hussein has been toppled, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's credibility is looking a lot better -- and that of his generals a lot worse -- than it did a week or two ago.

So now, of course, is the perfect time for "Sex Tips from Donald Rumsfeld," on Esquire.com, called to my attention by the estimable Yee Haw.

Talk dirty to me, Rummy!

posted at 11:40 AM | link

CNN's dubious Iraq connections. Last October the New Republic's Franklin Foer wrote a piece condemning CNN for toadying to the Iraqi government in order to keep its reporters from getting kicked out of the country. (The story is online here, and it appears to be freely available.)

Among the amusing details Foer offered was the fact that Saddam's henchmen would apparently go absolutely bonkers if reporters referred to the Great Leader as anything other than "President Saddam Hussein." In fact, that's what got Al Jazeera into trouble last week. And I recalled that detail watching CNN last night when Nic Robertson, back in Baghdad, referred repeatedly to "President Saddam Hussein" in his standup for NewsNight with Aaron Brown -- three times in just a couple of minutes, according to this transcript.

Robertson is nobody's toady, and I imagine his repetitious invocation of Saddam's preferred mode of reference was more habit than anything else. But this morning, in two pieces in the New York Times, a far more serious matter regarding CNN came to light.

The first -- and by far the more disturbing -- was an op-ed column by Eason Jordan, who is described as CNN's "chief news executive." By his own description, "CNN's ambassador to Iraq" would be more accurate. And it appears that he was an ambassador of the most odious kind, keeping silent about terrible human-rights abuses.

Jordan portrays himself as a humanitarian, and surely he wouldn't want to complain or exclaim in such a way that people would be tortured or killed -- beyond the fact that some were being tortured or killed anyway. But, as you will read, Jordan's silence may have cost the lives of Saddam's sons-in-law, who defected in 1995 and who were lured back by promises of forgiveness. Jordan does credit himself with saving the life of King Hussein. Well, at least he draws the line somewhere.

More to the point: at what moment does Jordan's concerns about access and safety morph into a slimy collaboration with Saddam's evil regime? Given the horrors that he describes, shouldn't there have come a day when he finally said, "No more"? Wasn't everything that CNN was reporting out of Iraq inherently dishonest, given that its chief news executive knew many, many things that he dared not say? "I felt awful having these stories bottled up inside of me," Jordan writes. Well, I would hope so. He should feel worse that he did nothing about it.

This other story, which describes CNN as the only major US news network to refuse to participate in a government-sponsored media campaign in Iraq, wouldn't stand out so much if it weren't for Jordan's column. CNN released a statement saying, "We didn't think that as an independent, global news organization it was appropriate to participate in a United States government video transmission."

Read Jordan's op-ed and then try to wrap your mind around the idea of CNN taking a principled stand on anything to do with Iraq. It is literally enough to induce nausea.

posted at 8:26 AM | link

D'oh! Well, so much for the weapons-grade plutonium. The Fox News Channel -- which yesterday was breathlessly hyping a report that US Marines may have found "weapons-grade plutonium" in a facility south of Baghdad -- is now running an AP report on its website that puts the matter in a very different light.

It appears that the Americans, with Homer Simpson-like regard for the hazards of nuclear material, may have broken the seal on a cache of low-grade uranium that was already known to the UN weapons inspectors.

Fox News's source yesterday was Carl Prine, an embedded reporter for Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Here's his story today, which seems to be a measured and responsible account of the situation.

As far as I've been able to tell, Fox News is the only major news outlet to hype this inflammatory piece of non-news. Is this fair and balanced reporting?

posted at 8:25 AM | link

Globe's Farrell joins Moore at Denver Post. The Boston Globe's number-two person in Washington, John Aloysius Farrell, is leaving to become Washington-bureau chief of the Denver Post -- the paper he worked at before coming to the Globe in 1987. He was recruited by Post editor Greg Moore, who was, until last year, the managing editor of the Globe.

Farrell is best known for his book, Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century (see "Don't Quote Me," News and Features, February 9, 2001), a massive, authoritative biography of the late House Speaker. He worked as Washington editor -- second-in-command to the bureau chief -- under David Shribman, who left the Globe recently to become executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. More recently, Farrell has been the Globe's senior Washington correspondent.

Here is Moore's memo to the Post staff announcing Farrell's hiring:

John Aloysius Farrell is rejoining The Denver Post as our new bureau chief in Washington. He replaces Bill McAllister, who resigned effective April 1st.

I have said that for The Post to be considered an important regional newspaper, we must do a better job of covering the issues out of Washington that affect our region -- public land management, forestry issues, the environment, military affairs and politics.

Jack returns to The Post after a 16-year absence. He left The Post in 1987 to join The Boston Globe as a national political reporter. He also worked as an investigative reporter on the Globe's prize winning Spotlight Team, a Congressional reporter, and White House Correspondent. Most recently, Jack served as The Globe's Washington editor, supervising a 10-person staff and assigning and crafting coverage of the 2000 election recount, post-September 11th coverage and many other challenging news stories. He is the author of the celebrated biography of the late House speaker, "Tip O'Neill and the Democratic Century."

While at The Post, Jack provided distinguished work as a magazine writer and investigative reporter. He wrote an eight-part series entitled "Utah: The Church State," and another eight-part series, The New Indian Wars, that took him and photographer Jim Richardson more than 35,000 miles to visit 21 tribes in 14 states. His work at The Post has won the Roy Howard Public Service Citation, the National Press Club Prize and the George Polk Award.

Before joining The Denver Post in 1982, Jack worked at The Baltimore News American, the Annapolis Evening Capital, and the Montgomery County Sentinel.

He is a graduate of the University of Virginia.

Jack's knowledge, experience and leadership will boost our report out of Washington. It is a bonus that he is familiar with Denver, Colorado and the West, in general.

Please welcome Jack back to The Denver Post on May 12.

Greg Moore

posted at 7:39 AM | link

Thursday, April 10, 2003

The plutonium connection. This is obviously the biggest story of the war if it proves true: US Marines have reportedly found radioactive material that may turn out to be weapons-grade plutonium at a facility south of Baghdad.

So why am I suspicious? Well, right now Fox News appears to be the only major news organization reporting this. And its source is an embedded reporter with Richard Mellon Scaife's Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

In other words, you might want to wait on this one. On the other hand, it certainly could be true. And if it is, it will obviously be a huge boost for President Bush.

posted at 3:45 PM | link

Radioactive Bush-proofing. One unfortunate lesson that dictators may draw from the war in Iraq is this: get nukes, and the US will leave you alone. Ian Williams and Ted Rall (yes, that Ted Rall) explain.

posted at 1:10 PM | link

A glorious moment and some cold water. What, really, can be added to the scenes of liberation and joy in downtown Baghdad yesterday? Of course we all know that chaos reigns, that the hunt for Saddam Hussein and the senior Iraqi leadership continues, and that the war may sputter on for days or weeks.

There may yet be hell to pay for the way the Bush administration accomplished this. The scenes of civilian suffering are wrenching, and the president's go-it-alone approach means that there's no one to blame but the US and Britain. But, overall, this is a truly wonderful moment for the people of Iraq.

But what would Media Log's purpose be if it were not to throw some cold water on this celebration? This morning, three buckets:

  • Al Jazeera today warns that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of the administration are now giving the hairy eyeball to Syria and Iran. This has been widely reported in the US press, too; the significance of the Al Jazeera story is that this is what much of the Arab world is now talking about. What looks like liberation to American eyes takes on the appearance of the beginning of empire from another perspective.
  • The Independent's Robert Fisk is anti-American to the core, but that doesn't mean he's unreliable. In fact, Fisk's account of yesterday's events in Baghdad is rich and nuanced. He describes not just the liberation -- or, should I say, "liberation," since he's always careful to use quotation marks -- but also the suffering that led up to it, as well as the US role in securing Saddam's dictatorship in the first place.
  • Now that US soldiers have suffered and died, fat cats such as former secretary of state George Shultz -- a director of Bechtel -- can move in for the financial kill, observes New York Times columnist Bob Herbert. The problem is that this White House doesn't just not worry about appearances -- it mocks them. Turning this into a business opportunity for American corporations is one sure way to turn victory into defeat.

posted at 10:17 AM | link

Two more on Kerry. Retired Boston Globe columnist David Nyhan has a good description in the Salem News of the Republican attack machine's stunningly successful effort to smear John Kerry for saying that favors a "regime change" in Washington.

And, in the New York Press, "Mugger" columnist Russ Smith attacks Kerry, lecturing that "he needs a tutor who can explain the difference between a standard political jab and a rhetorical time bomb." (Smith also pays tribute to the late Michael Kelly.)

posted at 10:16 AM | link

New in this week's Phoenix. I've heard from several Media Log readers who say they don't realize that my main gig is writing for the print edition of the Phoenix. So at the risk of being hopelessly self-promotional, I'll plug my stuff once it's available on BostonPhoenix.com.

This week, two pieces: a remembrance of Michael Kelly, the columnist and editor who was killed last week in Iraq, and some thoughts on the Pulitzer Prizes -- particularly the ones awarded to the Boston Globe for its coverage of the child-sexual-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church and to Samantha Power for her book on genocide.

posted at 10:15 AM | link

Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Aaron Brown, explained. Yes, CNN's Aaron Brown can be a little weird, but so what? He's smart and serious, two qualities you normally don't associate with the all-news cable channels these days. Plus, when he's doing his regular one-hour NewsNight -- as opposed to hour after hour of continuing war coverage -- he's the only anchor I can think of who's capable of projecting even a slightly hip sensibility.

So yes, I like this piece by Jason Gay in the current New York Observer.

posted at 4:07 PM | link

Credit where it's due. JR advises that the photo of an Iraqi kissing a George W. Bush poster was taken by Kevin Frayer of the Associated Press. I don't want to violate the AP's copyright, so I've taken it down. But do have a look.

posted at 3:15 PM | link

"Boosh! Boosh!" Drudge has posted this photo of a newly minted Bush supporter. I have no idea where he got it -- pardon the lack of a photo credit.

Misgivings aside -- and there will be plenty of opportunity for that in the weeks and months ahead -- this is a legitimately great moment.

posted at 2:31 PM | link

Wild in the streets. The Boston Globe has published an extra on the fall of Saddam Hussein. Here's the front page.

posted at 2:19 PM | link

Apple polishing. The New York Times' R.W. Apple Jr. has been taking a pounding from the likes of Slate's Jack Shafer for prematurely predicting a "quagmire," then trying to walk away from it with no fingerprints.

Well, today Johnny Apple weighs in with something that should disturb those who might be called patriotic antiwar liberals -- a group that includes Media Log and, one would have thought judging from his previous pieces, Apple himself. He writes:

[T]he antiwar forces, who have had to contend from the start with the widespread belief that their position is unpatriotic and unsupportive of American troops engaged in deadly combat, must now bear the additional burden of arguing with success. American losses are relatively small: 96 dead to date, compared with 200 a day at the height of the Vietnam War.

As Greil Marcus once said, What is this shit? Responsible war critics never thought the US was going to lose, or even suffer many casualties. Rather, the danger was that we would unleash chaos in Iraq, inflame the Arab world by inflicting civilian casualties (which we have certainly done), and cause terrible problems for ourselves down the road, such as creating a new generation of revenge-seeking terrorists.

At the moment, we don't know how many civilian casualties we've caused. Many, judging from today's dispatch by the Washington Post's Anthony Shadid.

We have to hope for the best, obviously. It appears that the fighting is almost over. The New York Times website has a minutes-old story by Dexter Filkins and Jane Perlez reporting that some Baghdad residents, at least, are beginning to throw of the shackles off three-plus decades of Baathism and are actually greeting American troops as liberators. That's something the US can build on.

But "arguing with success"? Please. Johnny Apple's problem isn't just that he's consistently wrong. It's that he tries on a persona-a-day, and expects us not to remember or care what he wrote just days before.

posted at 7:55 AM | link

Crittenden's view. The Boston Herald's Jules Crittenden had a front-row seat when an American tank blasted the Palestine Hotel, killing two journalists -- an attack that Al-Jazeera has charged was a deliberate attempt to intimidate the media. It looks a lot different from where Crittenden was watching.

posted at 7:55 AM | link

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

A conversation with Samantha Power. Robert Birnbaum sends along a link to an interview he conducted last summer with the newly minted Pulitzer Prize winner.

posted at 10:45 AM | link

Missiles? What missiles? Robert Fisk, of the Independent, has a surrealist take on the Iraqi information minister's news conference on the roof of the Palestine Hotel yesterday -- the most absurd moment of a day that was marked by "a crazed mixture of normality, death and high farce." Fisk writes:

As shells exploded to his left and the air was shredded by the power-diving American jets, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf announced to perhaps 100 journalists that the whole thing was a propaganda exercise, the Americans were no longer in possession of Baghdad airport, that reporters must "check their facts and re-check their facts -- that's all I ask you to do." Mercifully, the oil fires, bomb explosions and cordite smoke now obscured the western bank of the river, so fact-checking could no longer be accomplished by looking behind Mr Sahaf's back.

The different lens through which foreign journalists such as Fisk see the war continues to fascinate. For instance, Fisk writes that the "American thrust into Bagdhad had neither humility nor honour about it," adding that American soldiers were "sniping at soldiers and civilians. Hundreds of Iraqi men, women and children were brought to Baghdad hospitals ..."

This is not how to win the friendship and trust of the Iraqi people.

posted at 8:52 AM | link

It's called campaigning. Well, finally someone has figured out what John Kerry was doing when he called for "regime change" in Washington. He was (gasp!) running for president. The New York Times' Paul Krugman explains.

And good for Kerry for fighting back against the Republican attack machine. It would be nice if the media could figure out on their own that they're letting themselves be used, but maybe Kerry can help educate them.

posted at 8:52 AM | link

Pulitzers online. Here are links to some of the prize-winning work of yesterday's three local Pulitzer winners.

  • The Boston Globe's coverage of pedophile priests and of Cardinal Bernard Law's cover-up of their misdeeds.
  • The first-day coverage of the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune's reporting on the deaths of four boys who plunged through the ice of the Merrimack driver.
  • Samantha Power's book "A Problem from Hell": America in the Age of Genocide (excerpts via Amazon.com).

posted at 8:52 AM | link

Monday, April 07, 2003

The smoking barrel? Yes, there have been some false alarms, but this one looks pretty solid: the New York Times website is reporting that American troops have found evidence of Iraqi nerve gas and mustard gas in Karbala, near the Kuwait border.

posted at 11:48 AM | link

More on The Boondocks, plus a correction. Boston Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund today alludes to the weirdness of obsessing over the comics in the midst of a war. It is weird, but now I'm going to do it, too.

Chinlund's topic is the Globe's decision to kill the March 29 edition of The Boondocks, which, on that particular day, consisted of a text-only protest against the war in Iraq. She quotes editor Marty Baron as saying, "What I saw was not a comic strip. It was a written statement on the war. For such commentary, we have the op-ed page and letters. We reserve the comics page for comics."

Chinlund disagrees with Baron, saying he should have allowed it to run. She writes: "Allowing Boondocks the occasional use of a text note as one way to connect with readers would not threaten the integrity of the comics page." I agree.

As I was reading Chinlund's column, I realized, too, that I had made an error in this Media Log item on March 29. I took the Globe to task for censoring The Boondocks while doing nothing about the humor-free right-wing strip Mallard Fillmore. And I specifically cited a March 3 strip I'd found on the MF website that referred to the French by a junior-high-level anti-gay slur.

Well, Chinlund writes today that "the Mallard Fillmore strip that ran in the Globe March 3 was a substitute; the original, with a demeaning reference to the French, was canned."

My bad, but what I find interesting is that though I received several e-mails in response to my March 29 item, no one pointed out my mistake. Perhaps that says something about how closely people are looking at Mallard Fillmore, which may be the most stupid, unreadable comic on the page.

posted at 8:15 AM | link

On having it all (not). The results of today's Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll are the perfect example of what happens when you pander instead of lead. Governor Mitt Romney isn't the only culprit, but he is certainly the most significant one.

Read the grim details for yourself, but an overwhelming majority opposes raising the income tax, opposes raising the sales tax, opposes raising tuition at public colleges, opposes cutting local aid, and really, really opposes (by 73 percent to eight percent) cutting human-services funding.

They want it all, and they don't want to pay for it. Romney got elected, in part, because he never disabused voters of such ridiculous notions.

posted at 8:14 AM | link

Free and unpopular speech. Regina Burke, a member of the Hull Board of Selectmen, is refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance as a protest against the war in Iraq. The story is buried deep inside today's Boston Herald, which is exactly where it belongs.

The question now is whether the yahoos will leave her alone and let her finish her term in peace -- or turn her into fodder for talk-radio abuse.

posted at 8:14 AM | link

Warblog scandal. Media Log freely confesses to spending little or no time reading amateur warblogs. Keeping up with real news is hard enough. But if you're a fan of Sean-Paul Kelley (the Agonist), be advised that Dan Forbes, writing for Wired.com, has caught him plagiarizing -- deliberately, and with malice aforethought.

Forbes notes that Kelley was a guest on March 31 on WBUR Radio's The Connection. Here's the link.

posted at 8:13 AM | link

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Onward Christian huckster. As if fighting in the Iraqi desert weren't enough of a challenge already, some American troops must also contend with Army chaplain Josh Llano, who would appear to have a bright future ahead of him as a televangelist on cable TV.

No baptism, no water? I hope someone in the Army brass reads this, hands Llano a rifle, and sends him out looking for Fedayeen Saddam.

posted at 10:00 AM | link


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

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