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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 For information on Dan Kennedy's book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003), click here.

Friday, May 02, 2003

More on Jayson Blair. Media Log is still getting up to speed on the Jayson Blair story. It turns out that the Washington City Paper broke the story on Tuesday at almost the same time as the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz -- call it a tie.

Plus, the City Paper's Erik Wemple has the additional detail that Blair lifted not just from the San Antonio Express News but from the Associated Press as well.

posted at 12:34 PM | link

Another media career in ruins. The New York Times today announces that reporter Jayson Blair has resigned after writing a story about a missing soldier that he'd apparently lifted from the San Antonio Express News. Blair also appears not to have visited the home of the soldier's mother even though his article gives every appearance to the contrary.

The soldier, Army Sgt. Edward Anguiano, later turned out to have died in Iraq.

Here is Blair's story, published in the Times last Saturday. And here is the Express News story, written by Macarena Hernandez and published on April 18.

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz actually broke the story on Tuesday on He wrote a follow-up for the print edition the next day, and today reports on the finale.

According to Kurtz, Blair at one point had been a reporter for the Boston Globe. (Must have been for about two and a half minutes.) There is also this telling sentence: "He has been involved in a number of controversies and the paper [the Times] has run 50 corrections on his stories."

Romenesko is all over this, too.

A sad story, but Blair obviously has no one to blame but himself.

posted at 9:05 AM | link

Today's civics lesson. Did you know that "taking Article 12" is the Massachusetts equivalent of taking the Fifth? Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey explains -- and reports that few public officials are as experienced with the nuances of Article 12 as our extremely ethical state treasurer, Tim Cahill.

posted at 9:05 AM | link

Manly on the Lopez case. Judge Maria Lopez is the wife of Boston Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich. But you already knew that.

With that bit of disclosure taken care of, run out and buy a copy of today's Boston Herald so that you can read columnist Howard Manly's take on the Ebony Horton post-sentencing investigation. It is very different from what you've read, seen, and heard elsewhere -- and, in my view, very smart. (To pay to read it online, click here.)

posted at 9:04 AM | link

Thursday, May 01, 2003

Romney's permanent campaign. Amid the squabbling over Governor Mitt Romney's reorganization plan that leads both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald today is a fascinating tidbit: Romney has launched a radio-ad campaign urging listeners to demand that the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature not raise taxes, even though absolutely no one other than a few lonely progressives is talking about a tax increase in the first place.

This from the Globe story, by Rick Klein:

On Monday, [House Speaker Tom] Finneran reminded his colleagues at a closed-door caucus of House Democrats that Romney may work to unseat them next year, when all legislators are up for reelection.

"Romney and his team have machine guns, and they have bullets with our names on them," Finneran told the caucus, according to several House members who were in attendance.

Of course, Romney should campaign to elect more Republicans to the legislature. Ultimately, that's the only way he'll have any hope of succeeding. The problem is that when he goes into political mode, his tendency is to be so disingenuous and heavy-handed that he does himself more harm than good.

How to explain it? Here's a theory. Despite coming from a political family, Romney seems to be entirely unfamiliar with the political culture. Like a lot of people in the business community, he appears to be deeply cynical toward politicians, and therefore he assumes that this sort of crapola is standard operating procedure.

Beacon Hill is far from perfect, but most of the folks up there are not nearly as cynical as Romney thinks they are. Urging voters to get riled up about a tax increase that no one is even proposing is just a miserable way to do business.

posted at 8:56 AM | link

More on Jerry Williams. Reader Stuart Shiffman of Springfield, Illinois, writes to Media Log:

I enjoyed your thoughts on Jerry Williams. For a few years he had a show in the evening in Chicago. I remember one night that his guest was the famous Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell. I was a high school student in Evanston listening to the show. One on my friend's fathers, a Holocaust survivor, became so incensed with the show that he got in his car and drove to the studio to confront Rockwell. The police had to be called to calm the man down.

Williams was a craftsman, and is my memory fading or was he just so incredibly good at what he did? He didn't insult, sensationalize, or do any of the things that talk show hosts do now. I guess I am getting old.

posted at 8:55 AM | link

In her own write. Here is the text of the speech that MSNBC reporter Ashleigh Banfield gave at Kansas State University. And one clarification to my previous item: the interview she conducted that so incensed the easily incensed Michael Savage was with terrorists from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.

They may also have been "loyalists to Saddam Hussein," as I wrote, but they were not Iraqis, as I implied.

Here's the wind-up:

I'm hoping that I will have a future in news in cable, but not the way some cable news operators wrap themselves in the American flag and patriotism and go after a certain target demographic, which is very lucrative. You can already see the effects, you can already see the big hires on other networks, right wing hires to chase after this effect, and you can already see that flag waving in the corners of those cable news stations where they have exciting American music to go along with their war coverage.

Well, all of this has to do with what you've seen on Fox and its successes. So I do urge you to be very discerning as you continue to watch the development of cable news, and it is changing like lightning. Be very discerning because it behooves you like it never did before to watch with a grain of salt and to choose responsibly, and to demand what you should know.

Banfield has taken a lot of criticism over the past few years (but not from me!) for being some sort of shallow, unqualified bimbo. It's true that there have been times when it's appeared that she was in a little over her head, especially when she was anchoring a nightly show from Afghanistan post-9/11. (Wasn't everyone, though?)

The truth is that she's a hard-working journalist who's worried and disgusted about what's happening to her business. We all should be.

posted at 8:55 AM | link

New in this week's Phoenix. Boston-based campaign-finance-reform activist-lawyer John Bonifaz takes on a new cause: stripping corporations of their First Amendment rights.

posted at 8:54 AM | link

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Test-driving Apple's online music store. Media Log is taking the day off as the deadline for another project looms. However, I did want to report the results of my test-drive of Apple's iTunes Music Store. (It's not a website; rather, it's accessed through Apple's iTunes software. But you can learn all about it, and get started, by clicking here.)

Overall, I find it cool enough that I feel compelled to say that I don't own any Apple stock. I suspect it's a place I'll be returning to again and again. But you want to know the particulars, right?

First, the bad news. Apple's Macintosh computers already comprise less than three percent of the personal-computer market. To take advantage of the music store, though, you have to have not just any Mac, but one of quite recent vintage, running OS X (preferably the latest, OS X 10.2, a/k/a Jaguar), with a fast G3 or G4 processor, oodles of hard-drive space, and a broadband connection to the Internet.

One correspondent suggested to me yesterday that these stiff requirements might be Apple's way of forcing Mac-owning music-lovers to upgrade. No doubt that's part of it -- OS X is Apple's bet-the-company effort to keep Macs relevant, so it makes little sense for Steve Jobs to keep catering to those who own increasingly outmoded machines. But it's at least equally true that the music store is a huge, complex operation that requires a lot of horsepower. Designing a version for older Macs might have been pretty much impossible.

I am perversely fortunate in that my three-year-old PowerBook recently died, forcing me to buy a shiny new iBook that I couldn't really afford. So I was good to go.

Before I could even enter the store, I had to download two beefy pieces of software from Apple's website -- QuickTime 6.2 (18.4 MB) and iTunes 4 (8.3 MB). Like I said, you need a broadband connection.

The software installed quickly and easily, though, and in way less than half an hour I was perusing the store. It appears to be loaded with good stuff, including some online exclusives designed to entice you to buy.

I settled on an alternate take of Bob Dylan's "Everything Is Broken," from his Oh Mercy album of 1989. I entered some credit-card information, hit the "buy song" button, and boom -- there it was, a few minutes later. (By clicking on song titles, you can also get free 30-second samples.) A 99-cent charge will show up on my credit-card bill at the end of the month.

"Everything Is Broken" sounded pretty much the same as the original, only Zimmy was slightly more energetic, and the lyrics were different in spots -- addressed specifically to a woman, unlike the version he finally settled on for the album. More important, the sound quality was excellent -- noticeably better than the MP3s I've downloaded from various free sources. (Strictly for research purposes, of course!) That's because Apple is using an enhanced version of MP3 known as AAC.

I can also burn the song onto a CD or, if I had one, copy it to an Apple iPod MP3 player. I imagine you could copy it to a non-Apple MP3 player as well, although it would have to be converted to the regular MP3 format.

Though 99 cents seems more than reasonable for a song, I question the $10 being charged for most albums. For a few dollars more, you could get better sound (AAC is still compressed, after all) and nicer packaging. And though I haven't actually bought an album online yet, I'm pretty sure that you're also not going to get all the liner notes.

Still, this is a deeply impressive effort. This is sure to become the wave of the future -- provided that the paranoid record companies don't lose their nerve.

posted at 9:39 AM | link

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

The death of Jerry Williams. The last time I talked with Jerry Williams was in November 1999. The legislature had just tried to kill the voter-approved Clean Elections law, and no one seemed to care. Williams -- who in his heyday could get listeners to his talk-radio show to light up the State House switchboard like missiles over Baghdad -- seemed dispirited by the apathetic response.

"Nobody knows anything. Everybody's boring," Williams told me. "I imagine if the president of the Senate walked out in front of the State House, no one would know who he is."

If you're under 30, or if you moved to Boston within the past 10 years, you might not know who Williams was, either. But the veteran talk-show host, who died today at the age of 79, was a legend, a man who helped invent the talk-radio format in the 1950s and '60s, and who -- in a last, late flowering of his career in the 1980s -- was as powerful and controversial a figure as there was in Boston.

Following a stint in New York, Williams returned here in 1981, taking the afternoon drive-time shift at WRKO Radio (AM 680). A lifelong liberal who had interviewed such figures as Malcolm X, the 'RKO version of Williams was something of a reinvention: he became an anti-tax populist, though never, despite what his critics thought, a true conservative.

(WRKO has put up a Williams bio on its website, along with some sound clips.)

Williams also became the scourge of Governor Michael Dukakis, especially during and after Dukakis's unsuccessful presidential run in 1988. The state budget was imploding and Dukakis, naturally, wanted to keep the truth under wraps as long as possible. Williams -- joined by Citizens for Limited Taxation director Barbara Anderson and Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr -- took to the airwaves as "The Governors," mocking Dukakis in particular, and liberals in general.

Williams may also have been just about single-handedly responsible for the victory of a voter referendum to overturn an early version of the state's mandatory seatbelt law -- a crusade that seemed as important as the hunt for Osama bin Laden at the time, but that is now almost entirely forgotten.

Williams occupied a special place in the talk-show fraternity. He was neither as cerebral as David Brudnoy and Gene Burns nor as knowledgeable about politics as Peter Meade and David Finnegan. Rather, he was an entertainer who really cared about issues, and who actually got his vast listenership to care about issues, too.

And yes, it's true that he could be irrational on the subject of Dukakis, one of the most ethical and decent men to have served as governor of this state. And yes, his anti-tax crusades were misguided at best. But he approached politics from the point of view that people really mattered, and that they could take charge of their own government. All that and his annual sex survey, too.

The '90s were not kind to Williams. At one point, the media conglomerate he was working for put him and his erstwhile co-governor, Carr, opposite each other on two different radio stations that it owned. Carr won the ratings bake-off, and Williams was consigned first to a late-morning show, and then to the audience graveyard of weekend afternoons.

Williams finally left 'RKO, but never really gave up trying to revive his career. At the time of his death he was doing a show for WROL (AM 950), a small station in Quincy, a short drive from his home on the South Shore.

I once had an opportunity to do a show with Williams under unusual circumstances. Lew Koch, then a producer for a nationally syndicated talk-show host named Bruce DuMont, called me looking for advice. DuMont, who was based in Chicago, was coming to Boston to broadcast from WRKO on a Sunday night. (DuMont's show, Beyond the Beltway, is apparently still broadcast on WRKO. Who knew?) DuMont was a conservative, but Koch was a liberal. Koch told me that 'RKO was pushing him to put Carr on the air that night to lend a little local flavor; I urged him to get Williams instead.

So there I was, sitting in a studio with DuMont; someone from then-governor Bill Weld's office; and Williams, who sat in a corner looking sour. Weld had recently signed a Draconian welfare-reform bill, and the governor's staffer and DuMont were smugly holding forth about those damn welfare cheats.

Now, if Carr had been there, he would have been sure to chime in about the "gimme girls," his charming term for poor single mothers. But as I said, even though Williams had turned into an anti-taxer in his latter years, he never turned into a conservative.

All of a sudden, he roused himself and started barking. "What are these women supposed to do?" he demanded, leaning into the microphone. No one said a word. Williams continued -- unfortunately, I have no record of exactly what he said, but as I recall, he excoriated Weld for throwing poor women off welfare without making any provisions for child care or health care.

It was a great moment, and I beamed at my little subterfuge.

Perhaps the best-known episode from earlier in Williams's career took place in 1972, when Williams -- then at WBZ Radio (AM 1030) -- took a long, anguished call from a man who identified himself as a Vietnam veteran. Williams had a tape of the call, and he played it occasionally over the years. It never ceased to be moving.

In 1998 came a startling piece of news: a Boston Globe piece by liberal activist Jim Braude, now the cohost of NECN's NewsNight, claiming that the call was actually a hoax perpetrated by longtime union activist Domenic Bozzotto, who'd never served. Bozzotto denied it, but Braude appeared to have the goods. When I asked Williams about it, he told me, "I have never known who it was. What he said was more important than whether he was Joe from Framingham or Domenic from East Boston."

Williams leaves a much-diminished talk-radio scene. David Brudnoy, fortunately, is still going strong on WBZ. These days, though, hosts are either nationally syndicated right-wingers such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly, or local trash-talkers like Carr and his drivetime competitor, Jay Severin, who holds forth on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), or sports talkers Gerry Callahan and John Dennis on WEEI Radio (AM 850).

Six years ago I wrote a piece for the Phoenix called "The Death of Talk Radio." Sadly, it's deader now than it was then. When you hear the homophobic, race-baiting rants and foul language that pass for talk radio today, it's hard to believe that Jerry Williams was ever controversial.

It's also hard to believe that he's really gone.

posted at 11:46 AM | link

Banfield's too good for them. Let me see if I've got this straight. Right-wing homophobic talk-show host Michael Savage, in his "book," The Savage Nation, jokes that MSNBC stands for "More Snotty Nonsense By Creeps," and refers to MSNBC reporter Ashleigh Banfield as "the mind-slut with a big pair of glasses that they sent to Afghanistan."

So how did MSNBC executives respond? Why, they hired him, of course. And when he called Banfield a "slut" on the air for daring to interview loyalists to Saddam Hussein, his bosses reacted with silence.

Now Banfield has chosen to speak out, criticizing the networks -- not just her own -- for portraying the war as a glorious romp for democracy rather than the more complex and bloody conflict that it was.

"You did not see where those bullets landed. You didn't see what happened when the mortars landed. A puff of smoke is not what a mortar looks like when it explodes, believe me," Banfield said at a speech at Kansas State University last week.

She also dared to take on Savage, saying:

He was so taken aback by my daring to speak to martyrs ... for being prepared to sacrifice themselves, he chose to label me a slut on the air, and that's not all, as a porn star and an accessory to the murder of Jewish children. These are the ramifications for simply bringing the message in the Arab world.

A rational response might be to cheer Banfield for stating some obvious truths that few mainstream-media people want to say. But, noooo. Instead, NBC News released a statement saying:

Ms. Banfield does not speak for NBC News. We are deeply disappointed and troubled by her remarks, and will review her comments with her. In the meantime, we want to emphasize how proud we are of the journalism produced by NBC News and of the men and women who worked around the clock, even risking their lives, to bring this story to the American public.

Unfortunately, what's going on is very simple. Banfield is absolutely right about the war coverage, and besides, she's simply defending herself from someone who has attacked her twice in grotesquely sexist terms. But MSNBC's past attempts to turn her into its hot-babe marquee ratings star failed, so she's not allowed to speak out.

She'll be gone -- soon. So will Savage, after it becomes clear that his hate-filled, lower-than-public-access-quality talk show is a ratings loser. And MSNBC will continue its long, unwatched march into oblivion.

posted at 9:05 AM | link

Green days. Today's Boston Herald has some very, very hot news. Remember all those stories about how rich Governor Mitt Romney, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, and some of their top appointees are? Well, guess what? They're still rich.

posted at 9:05 AM | link

Admiring, but not biting, the Apple. So how come none of the reporters writing about Apple's new online music store -- at least not those for the Boston Herald, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, the New York Times, or Wired News -- actually seem to have tried it out?

Salon's Farhad Manjoo doesn't explicitly say that he test-drove it, but he drools over it so unquestioningly -- "Forgive me if the above sounds like a paid-for marketing pitch for Apple" -- that he damn well better have.

As of late yesterday afternoon, the service appeared to be up and running. Media Log didn't have a chance to test it, but was it unreasonable to assume that someone actually assigned to cover the story would give it a shot?

Okay, Slate's Paul Boutin tried it. He likes it.

posted at 9:04 AM | link

Monday, April 28, 2003

A Napster that you pay for. A year or two ago I was reading an article about the sorry state of the online music business, with its high monthly fees, its patchwork line-up of artists, and its odious restrictions on copying the music you'd just paid for onto a CD or an MP3 player.

The smartest observation was from an analyst who said that everyone already knew what customers wanted: a Napster that you pay for. In other words, a wide selection, reasonable prices for the music you want, no monthly fees, and few or no restrictions on what you could do with your MP3s once you'd downloaded them to your hard drive.

Today Apple will announce a new music service that pretty much adds up to -- yes -- a Napster that you pay for. The announcement will take place at 1 p.m. The early word, according to this Boston Globe story by Chris Gaither, is that Apple will charge 99 cents per song (or $10 for an album), and that you'll be able to burn it onto a CD or copy it to an MP3 player without any hassle, although there is supposed to be some sort of restriction on how many times you can copy it.

Today's Financial Times has a good summary of Apple's music service as well.

Last Friday the Wall Street Journal's Matthew Rose had a terrific profile of Apple CEO Steve Jobs and of how he came to see that the Next Big Thing was not digital video -- as he had believed a couple of years ago -- but online music.

I suspect that Apple's announcement marks the crumbling of the Berlin Wall. That is, the entire music-industry infrastructure has been rotting from within for years now, as its younger customers have taken to downloading all the music they want for free -- illegally -- via such Napster successors as KaZaA and LimeWire. Apple's move is spectacular on the surface, but it's really just the last, inevitable step in a long process.

Most people are fundamentally honest, or will be if they don't feel like they're getting ripped off. Until now, though, the music industry has refused to reconfigure its business to adjust to how its best customers now choose to obtain their music.

Instead, the industry has filed outrageous lawsuits against a handful of college students who have acted not just as downloaders, but as enablers. As Harry Shearer sneered in the New York Times on Sunday: "Here's a business model with a future: sue your customers."

By charging only for the music that a customer buys, and by going easy on the copying restrictions, Apple is the first legitimate business to try an approach that might actually work. Of course, even though Steve Jobs deserves credit in pushing this, it's clear that the music industry would never have gone along if its executives weren't desperate.

Weirdly, the Times' Matt Richtel writes today, "Unless Apple unveils something radically unexpected, its service will not represent a marked difference from some of the Internet services already in existence."

Matt, cruise on over to Rhapsody, at, the largest online music company. Yes, it does sound like you can do pretty much what you want with songs after you've downloaded them for 99 cents apiece. But you have to pay $9.95 a month whether you download anything or not. That's the barrier that Apple is now trying to topple.

No doubt you'll be able to get all the details on Apple's website later today, after the announcement.

If history is any guide, Apple will succeed, but most of the economic benefits will accrue to those who rush in afterwards. At least at first, Apple's service will supposedly be limited to Mac users, but that will change. Apple's Macintosh computers now only control less than three percent of the market, and four of those computers are in Media Log's house. As a technological innovator, though, Apple is without peer.

This will work.

posted at 8:41 AM | link

Sunday, April 27, 2003

The truth about the state budget crisis. Every member of Governor Mitt Romney's staff, every legislator, and every no-new-taxes automaton should be required to sit down and read this article in today's Boston Globe, by Peter Orszag, of the Brookings Institution, and Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist.

The executive summary:

  • Raising taxes is often the least damaging way out of a fiscal crisis in terms of harming the economy.
  • Compared to other states, taxes in Massachusetts are relatively low, both in relative and absolute terms.
  • The tax cuts of the 1990s primarily benefited the wealthy -- those who can most easily afford an increase now.
  • Nearly all of the spending increases of the '90s went to vital areas such as public education, health care, and prisons.

Sadly, elected leaders are giving into populist demogoguery of the anti-tax forces, as Boston Herald columnist Wayne Woodlief notes today. Mind you, Wayne thinks that's good. (You'll have to pay to read Woodlief's column. Is that a tax or a fee?)

The Herald website also points to a column by Tom Moroney, who works for the MetroWest Daily News, a sister paper. Moroney asks a lot of questions of folks he doesn't like, such as the Massachusetts Teachers Association and the AIDS Action Committee.

Read it for yourself, but in the meantime, I have a challenge for Moroney: explain precisely what is wrong with Orszag and Stiglitz's analysis. If you can't, are you willing to change your mind about the need for new taxes? And can you think about this in structural terms, rather than nitpicking it to death with little things that most of us already agree on, such as the need to reform the Quinn law?

posted at 10:59 AM | link


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

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