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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, June 07, 2003

Rumors of her retirement were greatly exaggerated. Why did I think that Susan Trausch had retired from the Boston Globe, as I wrote in my account of the Elizabeth Neuffer memorial service?

Somewhere it had stuck in my head that Trausch had taken one of the buyouts a couple of years ago. But I've received two e-mails -- including one from her husband! -- telling me that she is still working as an editorial writer for the paper.

I used to love Trausch's column. And I'm glad that her writing still graces the paper, even if I now have to try to guess which editorials are hers.

posted at 4:49 PM | comment or permalink

Friday, June 06, 2003

"I have done more of the work that has appeared under other people's by-lines than they have." It would be wise to reserve judgment about this e-mail from New York Times stringer Thomas Long that Al Giordano obtained (and which I found via InstaPundit).

But someone ought to interview Long and other stringers and get to the bottom of this. It's really shocking stuff, although I think Long's anger at Seth Mnookin (him again!) is misdirected.

posted at 5:14 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, June 05, 2003

A worthy sendoff for a great journalist. Hundreds of people turned out this morning at the JFK Library for a memorial service for the Boston Globe's Elizabeth Neuffer, who -- along with her translator, Waleed Khalifa Hassan Al Dulaimi -- were killed in a car accident in Iraq on May 9.

I did not take notes -- somehow it would have seemed disrespectful -- but I can report that it was dignified, emotional, and fitting for someone whose foreign correspondence represented the best that the news media can offer.

Editorial-page editor Renée Loth presided over a program that included remembrances by editor Marty Baron, former Ambassador Swanee Hunt, staff reporters Farah Stockman and Anne Barnard, retired Globe staff member Susan Trausch [Correction: Trausch is still employed as an editorial writer for the paper], foreign editor Jim Smith, and Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Power, who -- like Stockman -- credited Neuffer with starting her on her journalism career.

Especially moving was a tribute by her longtime companion, Washington-bureau chief Peter Canellos.

The Reverends Ray and Gloria White-Hammond opened and closed the service, which was held in a huge anteroom, a wall of windows behind the speakers, with Boston Harbor and the city skyline barely visible amid the fog and mist.

Neuffer's friends put together a memorial book called Remembering Elizabeth. It closes with this handwritten note:

To Whomever Finds This:

This is being written at the end of 1999 -- and at the beginning of a new millennium. It is also the end of a century, what has been one of the bloodiest centuries ever seen -- despite the incredible advancements mankind has made in science, the arts, and medicine. As a foreign correspondent for The Boston Globe -- which hopefully still is a newspaper that publishes in New England! -- I had some part in seeing some of this bloodshed while reporting on wars in the Gulf, Bosnia, and Rwanda. I would hope by the time you find this note, wars are extinct. But if they are not, please think again -- and stop them. I'd like to think the next millennium will be one in which people are not killed -- or prejudiced against -- because of their race, ethnicity or religion. In fact, all of us in 1999 are counting on you to ensure the future is one of peace. Please make it so.

Elizabeth Neuffer

posted at 2:18 PM | comment or permalink

What did Mnookin know and when did he know it? One offers even mild criticism of Newsweek's Seth Mnookin at one's peril (see item below). I'm beginning to think there are at least three Mnookins out there, each one of them reporting 18 hours a day.

Okay, we're still probably some period of time from knowing who the next executive editor of the New York Times will be, especially since -- with Joe Lelyveld temporarily back at the helm -- there's no need to act precipitously.

But with Howell Raines and Gerald Boyd gone, that suddenly opens up all kinds of possibilities.

And by the way, did I mention that I know Mnookin slightly, and that he's a hell of a nice guy?

posted at 2:00 PM | comment or permalink

Baron to NY? Uh, not so fast. Newsweek's Seth Mnookin has identified Boston Globe editor Marty Baron as a possible replacement for New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, should Raines be ousted or leave.

But wait! Baron and two other people Mnookin identifies as "obvious candidates" -- Times columnist Bill Keller, who was managing editor in the previous regime, and Los Angeles Times managing editor Dean Baquet, who, like Baron, once served in the editing ranks of the NY Times -- all say they haven't been contacted about the job.

Mnookin has been a force of nature on the whole Times/Raines/Jayson Blair saga. But is this really a story?

Meanwhile, Slate's Mickey Kaus has put Raines's chances of departing at 70 percent. I would say that 90 percent or 10 percent would be just as good a guess, wouldn't you?

posted at 8:52 AM | comment or permalink

The people behind MoveOn.org. Good article in today's Washington Post about MoveOn.org, which has grown in less than five years from a Web site opposed to Bill Clinton's impeachment to a major center of online activism for causes such as opposition to the war in Iraq and media reform.

Here's a Q&A with MoveOn.org's campaigns director, Eli Pariser, by the Portland Phoenix's Sam Pfeifle. And here's a closer look at MoveOn.org by AlterNet's Don Hazen.

Still more on why Saddam didn't save himself. Alexander Knapp has a smart, long post on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. He thinks the evidence supports their existence, and worries that they fell into the hands of terrorists and/or mercenaries when US troops rolled in.

Read the whole thing, but here's his conclusion:

If it turns out that Iraqi materials or weapons have fallen into the hands of terrorists, and those weapons are used against Western targets, then Bush, Rumsfeld, and Franks will all have a lot to answer for. And as I've said before, for their simple negligence in failing to secure suspected WMD sites, I think that Rumsfeld and Franks should be sacked. At the very, very least.

posted at 8:51 AM | comment or permalink

New in this week's Phoenix. Media reformers say that the FCC's outrageous deregulatory ruling this past Monday has mobilized the public for the first time in decades -- and that the agency's vote could kick off a new wave of activism. Also, the media try to figure out what really happened at the National Museum of Iraq.

posted at 8:50 AM | comment or permalink

Washington-bound. I'll be flying to DC early tomorrow morning to speak at a panel on "Investigating the Media," part of the annual conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors.

posted at 8:50 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

More on why Saddam didn't save himself. Got several e-mails in response to my item yesterday asking why Saddam Hussein -- if he really didn't have weapons of mass destruction -- failed to save himself by being genuinely cooperative with UN weapons inspectors.

M.O. pointed me to this Washington Post piece by MIT's Michael Schrage, arguing that Saddam played a game of chicken and lost. In this scenario, Saddam claimed not to have WMDs but refused to prove it, thus making it appear he might be lying, and thus keeping his neighbors discombobulated. Schrage writes:

In fact, WMD ambiguity was at the core of Iraq's strategy. Why? Because if it ever became unambiguously clear that Iraq had major initiatives underway in nuclear or bio-weapons, America, Israel and even Europe might intervene militarily. If, however, it ever became obvious that Iraq lacked the unconventional weaponry essential to inspiring fear and inflicting horrific damage, then the Kurds, Iranians and Saudis might lack appropriate respect for Hussein's imperial ambitions. Ambiguity thus kept the West at bay while keeping Hussein's neighbors and his people in line. A little rumor of anthrax or VX goes a long way.

R.D. sent a long, thoughtful e-mail, the heart of which is this:

Suppose for a minute that Iraq really did dismantle its chemical and biological weapons programs in 1995, as has been reported by a senior Iraqi defector. From the Iraqi standpoint, the entire WMD allegation takes on the character of a massive snipe hunt. No amount of access will ever be enough to satisfy the Bush administration. And, as Iraqi leaders pointed out, never in history had any power assembled an army as large as the one at the border of Iraq without eventually using it....

My problem is that I don't see any evidence that is inconsistent with the thesis that Iraq had not had any chemical weapons since 1995. I saw very detailed allegations, which later turned out to be overblown, faked, or the outdated work of graduate students. So now we're supposed to believe that, even though the evidence was bad, the accusation was good. As a scientist, I find this attitude bizarre.

R.D. also took me to task for indirectly quoting UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix as calling Iraq's December report worthless. A bit glib, I'll concede, though I still think it accurately characterizes Blix's overall assessment.

As for R.D.'s larger argument, I'll stick to my original point: if Saddam really didn't have WMDs, and if he had made a genuine attempt to explain what had happened to those weapons that the UN knew he had once had, then President Bush would have been faced with two options: (1) go to war alone, with no one, not even Tony Blair, to back him up; or (2) back down.

Either of those options would have been -- should have been -- far more palatable to Saddam than what actually happened. But, then, who knows what goes on in the mind of Saddam Hussein?

W.W.S. pointed me to this post on his blog, Pepper Gray, which is a variation of the Schrage argument. And E.R. called my attention to this, which says that Iraq's WMDs may have been moved to Syria -- although she cautions, "I have no idea how reliable these people are." Certainly that seemed to be a working theory in the immediate aftermath of Saddam's fall, though we haven't heard much about it lately.

My favorite explanation, though, comes from R.G.H., who suggests that Iraq had long since lost its WMD capability -- but no one dared tell Saddam! He writes:

I like the theory that he didn't know he didn't have WMD because his underlings were afraid to tell him they no longer had the resources to rebuild the capability.

In college, I had a history prof who was a retired Air Force colonel. He told a story about taking control of the German Air Force headquarters in Bavaria at the end of WWII. The Allies were concerned that their small numbers would be unable to keep the Wehrmacht officers under control if they were arrested and imprisoned. So, instead, the Allies essentially locked the gate to the command compound and, as the command continued to issue orders to a non-existent air force, the Allies scooped them up and destroyed them. The command officers, having their time occupied, never posed a threat to escape or cause other problems.

This was told to describe the German personality, but I think it's a fair description of the military mindset, as well. Orders are issued and it is assumed that they are followed. Certainly Saddam would assume that it would be the case.

Then, put yourself in the place of one of Saddam's lieutenants: "I'm not telling him. YOU tell him."

It all makes perfect sense to me.

Me too.

posted at 8:59 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

"Ideas" man. MediaBistro.com has a Q&A with Alex Star, editor of the Globe's "Ideas" section. (Via Romenesko.)

In the nine or so months that "Ideas" has been coming out, I haven't quite known what to make of it. I know people who love it; and I know people who really, really hate it. If pressed against the wall and forced to give an answer, I guess I'd say I like it, but not all the time, and that in some respects it still doesn't feel like it's quite gelled.

"Ideas" runs some terrific stuff. At the same time, I'd like to see more policy pieces, especially on local issues. In other words, maybe move it just a bit toward what was offered by the old "Focus" section, which it replaced.

Anyway, Star comes across in the interview as smart and interesting.

And here is my favorite chunk from "Ideas" since its debut, a hilarious meditation on old age headlined "Would You Let Your Grandmother Marry a Rolling Stone?", published last October and written by Joe Sacco and Gerry Mohr:

Perhaps you prefer the implacable dignity of Bob Dylan, who, in recent years, has recast himself as a romantically world-weary and crusty old man. This might be how you like to imagine yourself aging -- wisely, your face to the wind, with, as Shakespeare's Prospero mused, "every third thought [about the] grave." The Stones, on the other hand, are aging pretty much how you are likely to -- gracelessly, scared witless, clutching and clawing at the years that run through your fingers, dancing like a maniac when you think someone half your age is watching, and generally making yourself a laughingstock.

posted at 5:04 PM | comment or permalink

If Saddam didn't have WMDs, why didn't he prove it? We should all be outraged by the Bush administration's untruths as to whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Saddam's alleged chemical, biological, and nascent nuclear capabilities were, after all, the principal argument offered by the White House for going to war in the first place.

Still, this is a bit more complicated than some elements of the antiwar left would have it. Last night, Newsweek's Michael Isikoff appeared on The David Brudnoy Show, on WBZ Radio (AM 1030), to talk about his latest article, regarding the way US officials bent intelligence to suit their needs. That's how the phony stories about the aluminum tubes and the uranium from Niger made their way into the public consciousness.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman today goes hyperbolic, writing, "The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history -- worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra."

I usually am delighted with Krugman's heated Bush-whacking. But, in this case, he and other critics are forgetting about one key fact. Last December, Iraq submitted a 12,200-page, UN-mandated report on its weapons program that chief weapons inspector Hans Blix denounced as worthless.

Weapons inspectors knew for a fact that Saddam had an active program for producing WMDs at one time. Yet, when faced with invasion and overthrow, Saddam refused to say whether he still had those weapons -- or, if he didn't, what he had done with them. Nor was he particularly cooperative with Blix and nuclear-weapons inspector Mohammed ElBareidi.

Thus, if Iraq didn't have WMDs, Saddam refused to take the opportunity to prove it and thus stave off the end of his brutal, bloody regime.

President Bush now has a chaotic mess on his hands -- a mess that was predicted by those of us who opposed going to war without an explicit UN mandate.

Nevertheless, given that it now seems clear that Iraq's WMD capability was, at the very least, nowhere near as great as the White House had claimed, it is a mystery as to why Saddam didn't do more to save his worthless, evil ass.

posted at 9:33 AM | comment or permalink

Anti-Semitism in the Chicago Tribune. Andrew Sullivan pointed to this before me. It needs to be seen. Why is anti-Semitic garbage like this running in a great newspaper like the Chicago Tribune?

My attempt to register at the Tribune website failed, but if you go here, it looks like readers were outraged.

Unfortunately, in this interview with Editor & Publisher, cartoonist Dick Locher shows that he doesn't get it.

posted at 9:32 AM | comment or permalink

Salam Pax is real! Peter Maass has the details in Slate. And Pax has already responded.

posted at 9:32 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, June 02, 2003

Designer babies or not? MIT scientist Steven Pinker has a fascinating essay on so-called designer babies in the Ideas section of yesterday's Globe. Pinker's bottom line: the prediction that embryos will be genetically engineered so that children will be smarter, taller, better-natured, or whatever is little more than futuristic hype. Genetics, he writes, is a whole lot more complicated than is popularly believed.

Yet Pinker places an oddly artificial limit on his own predictive abilities when he writes: "Not only is genetic enhancement not inevitable, it is not particularly likely in our lifetimes." In our lifetimes? Is that what we're really talking about? What about 100 years from now, or 500, or 1000?

Last year, University of California scientist Gregory Stock offered a very different view in his book Redesigning Humans: Our Inevitable Genetic Future. Stock concedes the difficulty and, ultimately, the futility of direct manipulation of genes -- although he doesn't rule it out entirely.

Instead, he focuses much of his attention on a truly mind-bending concept: artificial chromosomes that could hold genes that fight disease, enhance intelligence, and the like. Such an approach, he argues, would be both easier and safer than "germline" engineering, the term for manipulating genes so that the changes will be passed on from generation to generation.

By contrast, the Stockian approach would limit any changes to the individual on which they are made.

In one particularly fanciful section, Stock writes:

Human conception is shifting from chance to conscious design.... Imagine that a future father gives his baby daughter chromosome 47, version 2.0, a top-of-the-line model with a dozen therapeutic gene modules. By the time she grows up and has a child of her own, she finds 2.0 downright primitive. Her three-gene anticancer module pales beside the eight-gene cluster of the new version 5.9, which better regulates gene expression, targets additional cancers, and has fewer side effects. The anti-obesity module is pretty much the same in both versions, but 5.9 features a whopping nineteen antivirus modules instead of the four she has and an anti-aging module that can maintain juvenile hormone levels for an extra decade and retain immune function longer too. The daughter may be too sensible to opt for some of the more experimental modules for her son, but she cannot imagine giving him her antique chromosome and forcing him to take the drugs she uses to compensate for its shortcomings. As far as reverting to the pre-therapy, natural state of 23 chromosomes pairs, well, only Luddites would do that to their kids.

Is this where we're going? Is it a good idea? Who knows? But I do know this: although I would certainly not presume to argue with Professor Pinker, the changes that may lie ahead in generations to come are bound to be far more formidable than anything we can imagine happening "in our lifetimes."

posted at 7:45 AM | comment or permalink


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

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