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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, July 11, 2003

"Give Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz the boot." H.D.S. Greenway explains why this morning in a column in the Boston Globe:

The Pentagon seems to have believed that Iraqi army units and policemen would come over to the American side with their forces intact and begin working for the Americans. It seems not to have occurred to them that another scenario might unfold, that the soldiers and police would simply melt away and that chaos would take over. The great failure of Pentagon planning was that there was no Plan B if Plan A failed. After trying to run Iraq on the cheap, Rumsfeld this week doubled his estimates for the cost of maintaining troops in Iraq.

Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz aren't going anywhere, but that doesn't mean Greenway is wrong.

posted at 7:37 AM | comment or permalink

A near-death experience. Would same-sex marriage have helped Lisa Craig, Debbie Riley, and their kids? In this morning's Boston Herald, reporter Jessica Heslam describes a horrifying Fourth of July attack in East Boston that nearly cost Craig her life.

You could plausibly argue that marriage would not impress the boneheads who preyed on this family. Still, by normalizing gay and lesbian relationships, society can send subtle messages about the way such relationships are perceived.

It's rare, after all, to hear of racist goons setting upon mixed-race couples anymore. So too could it be with gay and lesbian couples.

posted at 7:37 AM | comment or permalink

Media Log on the air. I'll be Pat Whitley's guest at 9 a.m. today on WRKO Radio (AM 680). The subject will be 'RKO's decision to return homophobic talk-show host to the airwaves after just a one-day suspension.

If I survive, I'll also be on Greater Boston's Friday "Beat the Press" roundup tonight on WGBH-TV (7 p.m. on Channel 2, midnight on Channel 44).

posted at 7:37 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, July 10, 2003

Shannon O'Brien, on the other side. Would somebody please tell me why this is a good idea?

WLVI-TV (Channel 56) has announced that former state treasurer Shannon O'Brien is joining the station as a "special assignment reporter," and "will focus on helping Massachusetts' residents navigate consumer or governmental concerns. The content will be driven by O'Brien's political savvy, insider experience and law background."

Ethical concerns about the revolving door aside, I just can't imagine how this is going to help Channel 56 in terms of ratings (O'Brien didn't exactly connect with voters in her 2002 gubernatorial campaign), credibility, genuine usefulness, or anything else.

posted at 11:25 AM | comment or permalink

Is Baron back in the game? New York Post media reporter Keith Kelly says that Boston Globe editor Marty Baron was spied in the New York Times newsroom yesterday, fueling speculation that he's in line to become the Times managing editor -- most likely under Bill Keller, widely identified as the leading candidate to replace Howell Raines as executive editor. (Via Romenesko.)

Even before Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd resigned over the Jayson Blair scandal and its attendant fallout, Baron was identified as a leading contender for one of the top two jobs. The fact is that there just aren't all that many big-time editors anymore, especially ones who -- like Baron -- have some Times experience under their belt.

Baron, a former Editor & Publisher "Editor of the Year," won Pulitzers at both the Miami Herald and the Globe, the latter for the paper's monumental efforts in covering the pedophile-priest crisis in the Catholic Church.

In the past few weeks, though, Baron's chances had seemed to fade. As it has become increasingly likely that Keller -- passed over in favor of Raines two years ago -- would get the top job, Baron's being a white male appeared to be working against him. In the fevered game of media speculation, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was said to want a woman and/or an African-American in one of the two top spots. In some circles, Washington-bureau chief Jill Abramson was all but anointed as managing editor.

Now, though, things may be moving back Baron's way.

From the beginning, the managing editor's job has seemed like a natural fit for Baron if Sulzberger were inclined to go that way. Baron is only 48, and, given the problems experienced under the Raines-Boyd regime, one would think Sulzberger would be inclined to play it safe -- despite his reputation as a risk-taker. Baron would be a gamble as number one; but as number two, with a clear shot at the top job in, say, five to eight years, he'd be a natural.

Of course, this is all incredibly speculative. As Baron told me last month, "I don't think there's any purpose served in speculating on that prospect at all. Right now I'm here, I'm happy, I'm focused on what I'm doing here, and I don't want to speculate on what might happen."

The best quote on the subject comes from Times metropolitan editor Jonathan Landman, who recently told the New York Observer's Sridhar Pappu: "I truly know nothing. It's all a lot of people making stuff up. I don't know; you don't know. Everybody's making stuff up."

In other words: take all of this with a grain of salt.

posted at 8:47 AM | comment or permalink

Well, that was quick. The Boston Herald's Dean Johnson and the Boston Globe's Mark Jurkowitz today report what was obvious last night: WRKO Radio (AM 680) has decided to put syndicated right-wing garbage-mouth Michael Savage back on the air after a one-day suspension.

In yesterday's Globe, 'RKO program director Mike Elder came across as someone who was at least going to give it some thought before deciding whether to keep doing business with the homophobic Savage. So in today's Phoenix, I've got an open letter to Elder, documenting his long record of homophobic outbursts on radio and in print, long before the rant that got him fired from his MSNBC show last Saturday.

Well, Mike, read it anyway. Maybe you'll learn something.

posted at 8:47 AM | comment or permalink

New in this week's Phoenix. In addition to my letter to Mike Elder, I offer some thoughts regarding animal magnetism on the homophobic right.

posted at 8:47 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

The dog that didn't bark. I'd missed this until I saw Robert Samuelson's column in today's Washington Post. But the US Supreme Court declined to rule on a free-speech case involving Nike and an anti-corporate activist from San Francisco named Marc Kasky.

Kasky had sued Nike, charging that the company lied in press releases, letters to the editor, and on its website about the working conditions of Nike employees in the Third World. More to the point, Kasky asserted that Nike's statements constituted commercial speech under California law, as subject to regulation for truthfulness as ads about the performance of its running shoes. While not conceding having made any false statements, Nike tried to get the case thrown out on First Amendment grounds.

I wrote about the case recently ("Don't Quote Me," May 2), mainly because I was intrigued by the involvement of the Boston-based National Voting Rights Institute, which took the position that the First Amendment should protect individuals, not corporations. It's an interesting argument, though I think speech restrictions are never worth whatever gain its proponents believe there is to be had in terms of leveling the playing field.

One tidbit I picked up that I didn't use now looks prescient. Stephen Barnett, a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law, at the University of California at Berkeley, told me that though he was hoping the Court would rule decisively in Nike's favor, his expectation was that it would punt because the case had not yet gone to trial.

"My sense is that in the end it will not be a great case, and the Court will decide very little," Barnett told me. "The way things work now, the Court has this rule requiring final decisions, meaning that the case only comes up after a final judgment, rather than an interlocutory decision like this one."

Barnett called it exactly right.

posted at 12:27 PM | comment or permalink

More trouble for a guy who deserves it. Gay-bashing hatemonger Michael Savage's well-publicized firing from MSNBC isn't his only problem: his talk-radio empire may be crumbling as well.

Ira Simmons reports on ChronWatch that, because of a contract dispute in Savage's home base of San Francisco, The Savage Nation has been yanked off the air in New York City.

His show has also been (temporarily?) suspended in Boston at WRKO Radio (AM 680), the Boston Globe's Mark Jurkowitz reports today. Program director Mike Elder tells Jurkowitz that he personally believes Savage is "probably a homophobe," and that he will not tolerate an outburst like Saturday's MSNBC incident on WRKO's airwaves.

This is all moving in the right direction, yet the underlying hypocrisy continues to astound. Doesn't Elder listen to his own radio station? Before MSNBC ever gave Savage a show, he was already infamous for his references to "homosexual perversion" and "Turd World nations" -- references that were broadcast repeatedly to WRKO listeners since his being added to the line-up last year.

Savage's ridiculous sucking-up to a lesbian cop in the debut of his TV show demonstrated that both he and MSNBC knew they had to do something about his well-earned reputation as a homophobe.

Hey, Mike (Elder, that is): take a look at this compilation by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. As far back as 1999, the San Jose Mercury News reported, "Savage has apologized to gay activists after saying he wished they would get AIDS."

Savage has reportedly also joked about "the Million Dyke March," and has spoken out about "the grand plan, to push homosexuality to cut down on the white race."

On its website, WRKO has posted a statement about Savage that concludes:

It is our hope that Michael Savage will return to WRKO in the next few days. It is clear that these comments were not made on his radio show, but this is the same way we'd handle a similar situation with our local talent. This is not a free speech issue, but rather an issue of appropriateness and good corporate citizenship.

WRKO is certainly right about one thing: this is not a free-speech issue. The station is part of Entercom, a corporate media conglomerate with stations across the country -- four in Boston alone. Its profits derive from the deregulatory environment of recent years, in which the FCC has allowed a handful of giant operators to gobble up all but a hardy few stations.

Elder needs to understand this: Michael Savage is a homophobe, and his homophobic remarks on television were an extension of the homophobic remarks he's made on radio. Does Elder care? He certainly will if carrying The Savage Nation turns into a business liability.

Do advertisers really want to be associated with such garbage? We'll soon find out.

posted at 9:00 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Savage cynicism. MSNBC is getting praise in some circles today for firing talk-show host Michael Savage after a homophobic outburst on Saturday. But why? He was given a Saturday-afternoon gig this spring because his syndicated radio show draws millions of listeners, featuring exactly the kind of homophobia that lost him his MSNBC show.

The question isn't whether MSNBC executives actually believed Savage could contain himself when the TV cameras were rolling. It's quite a bit more basic than that. Did they really think they could avoid the sting of homophobia by hiring a homophobic host and then telling him not to act like a homophobe when the TV cameras were rolling?

Even if Savage had managed to behave himself on Saturday, he was still playing the hatemonger every Monday through Friday. And, until this week, he had the imprimatur of NBC News, which I guess used to mean something.

Washington Post television columnist Lisa de Moraes's acid lead this morning gets right to it:

MSNBC was shocked -- shocked, I tell you -- to learn that its well-known homophobe host Michael Savage is actually -- gasp! -- homophobic, and the network has sacked him, effective immediately.

By the way, here is the worst of Saturday's outbursts, as reported by de Moraes:

Savage: "So you're one of those sodomists -- are you a sodomite?"

Caller: "Yes, I am."

Savage: "Oh, you're one of the sodomites. You should only get AIDS and die, you pig. How's that? Why don't you see if you can sue me, you pig. You got nothing better than to put me down, you piece of garbage. You have got nothing to do today -- go eat a sausage and choke on it. Get trichinosis."

Savage, on his website, claims that he didn't know he was on the air. You can't make this stuff up. He writes:

[T]his was an interchange between me personally and a mean spirited vicious setup caller which I thought was taking place off the air. It was not meant to reflect my views of the terrible tragedy and suffering associated with AIDS. I especially appeal to my many listeners in the gay community to accept my apologies for any inadvertent insults which may have occurred.

Now, even if Savage is telling the truth, which I suppose is a possibility, he still wants you to believe that he's not homophobic because he only makes grotesque jokes about AIDS and oral sex in private. Oh, okay.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation takes the high road today, issuing a statement saying that it "applauded" MSNBC's decision. That may make good tactical sense. Why not be gracious when your enemy finally does the right thing?

But the real story is told in GLAAD's overview of Savage's history of gay-bashing, "MSNBC & the Anti-Gay Savage." carries only an Associated Press story about the firing.

The website Michael Savage Sucks appears to be on vacation today, which is too bad. But it will certainly be worth checking out when it's updated.

MSNBC deserves no kudos for finally realizing that Savage was harming the reputation of the News Channel That Nobody Watches. The operation's behavior has been so unrelievedly cynical that you can only wonder why Savage was really canned.

Was the MSNBC brass really "shocked -- shocked"?

Or, given that Savage's ratings sucked, did they just decide that now was as good a time as any to pull the plug?

posted at 8:58 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, July 07, 2003

Dwarfism and the new eugenics. What were you doing on the Fourth of July? Probably not reading the New York Times. That's all right. I was, and this morning I want to call your attention to this splendid column by Nicholas Kristof about the ways in which genetic advances may eliminate various types of disability -- including achondroplasia, the most common form of dwarfism.

It turns out that Kristof has family members in Britain who are dwarfs. He introduces us to one of them, Tom Shakespeare, a scholar of genetics. I'd heard of Shakespeare, but didn't know much about him. He seems like a pretty interesting guy. Shakespeare has a website, which you can get to by clicking here.

The point of Kristof's column is that what might seem at first glance to be an unalloyed good thing -- genetically engineered "cures" for dwarfism and other types of disability -- could have disastrous consequences down the road. It also happens to be a major theme of my forthcoming book on the culture of dwarfism, Little People.

posted at 8:44 AM | comment or permalink

More on the dwarfism conference. I've posted a page full of links to coverage of last week's Little People of America national conference in Danvers. If I learn of more pieces, I'll post those, too.

posted at 8:43 AM | comment or permalink

How the Supremes came to realize that gays and lesbians are people, too. So why did the US Supreme Court issue such a progressive opinion in the Texas sodomy case? The New York Times' Linda Greenhouse explains:

The Supreme Court has become a gay-friendly workplace where employees feel sufficiently comfortable in their open identity to bring their partners to court functions. Justice Powell's comment to one of his law clerks while Bowers v. Hardwick was pending in 1986 that "I don't believe I've ever met a homosexual" (untrue, considering that the clerk was, in fact, gay) could not be uttered in the court -- or the Washington or the legal profession -- of today.

If proximity leads to amity, then let's say we all chip in and get the Boston Globe's Jeff Jacoby a gay editorial assistant. Jacoby's two-parter against same-sex marriage (here's part one; here's part two) shows that he's out of ammunition. But he's still firing away.

posted at 8:43 AM | comment or permalink

More on the Republican Attack Machine. Media Log would never be any more self-referential than absolutely necessary. But Alan Wolfe's excellent piece in the Ideas section of yesterday's Globe reads like the flip side of my recent piece on the down-and-dirty tactics of the modern Republican Party and its allies in the media ("The GOP Attack Machine").

It's heartening that a mainstream, measured liberal such as Wolfe has concluded that the Republicans -- starting with George W. Bush -- have unilaterally shattered the governing consensus necessary to make politics work.

Wolfe seems to think that by sticking to their principles, the Democrats will ensure their own defeat in 2004 -- but that may enable them to build for the future. I'm not so sure that his short-term pessimism is warranted -- just check out the headlines from Iraq and from the economic front on any given day.

But he's right about this: politics is a nasty game, and the Republicans are playing it a lot nastier than the Democrats right now.

posted at 8:43 AM | comment or permalink


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

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