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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, July 19, 2003

Summer vacation. Media Log will go into suspended animation this week. There will be no posts until July 28 or thereabouts.

posted at 10:06 AM | comment or permalink

It's winter down there! Greg Tingle, the proprietor of a website called Media Man Australia, has published a long Q&A with me. He was kind enough to let me flog my book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes. Please have a look -- and check out his site.

posted at 10:06 AM | comment or permalink

No blood for oil redux. Media Log has always found ridiculous the notion that the war in Iraq was all about oil. No doubt oil had something to do with moving Iraq higher up the priority list than, say, North Korea or Congo. But if the Bushies really wanted Iraq's oil that bad, then how come they didn't grab it 12 years ago?

But now I'm beginning to think the "no blood for oil" crowd might have been right all along. ER passes on this link to Larry Klayman's Judicial Watch website, which reports that documents turned over under court order by Dick Cheney's secret energy task force include a map of Iraq's oilfields and pipelines, as well as similar maps of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

The documents are dated March 2001, according to Judicial Watch. Hmm. Do you suppose Cheney might have believed the US would have access to Iraqi oil at some point in the future? Where would he have gotten that idea?

Obligatory weasel words: by itself, this proves nothing. But there are some pretty serious questions that need answering.

posted at 10:05 AM | comment or permalink

Friday, July 18, 2003

Drip, drip, drip. No matter how much cover Tony Blair tries to give George W. Bush, the news for the White House keeps getting worse.

Today the Washington Post's Walter Pincus and Dana Priest report that the State Department received those forged Niger uranium documents three months before the State of the Union address -- and four months before the documents were finally turned over to UN weapons inspectors. Write Pincus and Priest:

State Department officials could not say yesterday why they did not turn over the documents when the inspectors asked for them in December.

Both the Post and the New York Times' James Risen and David Sanger offer details on how National Security Council staffer Robert Joseph pushed to include the phony Niger connection in the State of the Union even though CIA director George Tenet had personally acted to keep it out of Bush's October 7 speech.

Meanwhile, former secretary of defense Caspar Weinberger comes riding to Bush's defense with a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece (free registration required) that attempts to resurrect the Niger story. Earth to Cap: perhaps there is something to it, as Blair insists. The issue is the White House's cavalier treatment of a forgery. But, then, lest we forget, Weinberger received a presidential pardon from Bush's father.

Loyalty counts.

The sneering subhead on Weinberger's piece: "How many electoral votes does Niger have, anyway?" Well, gosh, I guess that would be zero. Can't argue with that.

posted at 7:52 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, July 17, 2003

Despite everything, goodwill in Baghdad. Late blogging this morning -- my home Internet connection was down. I heard the results of a fascinating poll (PDF file) on the BBC while driving to work. Despite everything, a survey of adults in Baghdad shows that precisely half supports the US-British invasion and most definitely does not want Saddam Hussein back in power.

According to the poll, by the British polling company YouGov, 50 percent "think that America and Britain's war against Saddam's regime was right" and 27 percent think it was "wrong." Those expressing no opinion totaled 23 percent -- which seems weird until you remember that they were probably terrified to answer.

The support comes even though large pluralities believe the primary reasons for the war were oil and Israel.

By a margin of 29 percent to nine percent, respondents say they would rather live under US rule than under Saddam -- even though they also say that their lives were better a year ago than they are today (47 percent to 32 percent). Optimism prevails: by 52 percent to 11 percent, they believe their lives will be better five years from now than they were under Saddam.

And by 75 percent to 14 percent, Baghdad residents say that Iraq is a more dangerous place today than it was before the invasion.

What this shows is that even if you believe we blundered into Iraq under false pretenses (and if you believe that, you would be correct), there is still more than a decent chance of salvaging this -- if we get about the business of restoring the country's shattered infrastructure and continue to turn power over to Iraqis.

Sometimes it's difficult to take the Fitzgeraldian view and hold two contradictory ideas at the same time. But we need to find a way to investigate the prevarications of the Bush administration while at the same time realizing that a significant number of Iraqis do see us as liberators, and are depending on our willingness to follow through.

posted at 11:13 AM | comment or permalink

New in this week's Phoenix. The surprise issue of the 2004 presidential campaign may turn out to be same-sex marriage.

Plus, newly anointed New York Times executive editor Bill Keller turned down another career path several years ago: the chance to edit the Boston Globe.

posted at 11:13 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

A bulletin from Planet W. Salon blogger Joe Conason has picked up on a truly weird statement that Our Only President made in a story reported by Dana Milbank and Dana Priest of the Washington Post.

George W. Bush said that he decided to go to war with Iraq after having given Saddam Hussein "a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in."

Do I need to point out that Hans Blix, Mohamed ElBareidi, and company were in Iraq, diligently looking for weapons, and left only when the threat of a US invasion came imminent?

Asks Conason: "What possessed the president to make an assertion that everyone on the planet knows to be untrue? And who is going to take the responsibility for this one?"

posted at 3:01 PM | comment or permalink

Searching for those WMDs. The New Republic is back with another vital contribution to the debate over the so-called imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein.

Last month, the magazine ran a report by John Judis and Spencer Ackerman demonstrating how the White House and the Defense Department leaned on the intelligence community to cook the books in favor of a US-led invasion.

This week, it carries a dispatch by Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Drogin (subscription required) that asks: what ever happened to those WMDs? Drogin's well-researched guess is that Saddam's weapons program ceased in the mid 1990s under pressure from UN inspectors and economic sanctions.

Now, this gets a little complicated. There's no question that Saddam lied repeatedly when inspections started up again late last year. Even Hans Blix said it appeared Saddam was holding out. Why didn't Saddam just come clean and save himself?

The most likely explanation, according to Drogin, is that even though Saddam was telling the truth when he asserted that Iraq didn't have WMDs, he wanted to make it look like he was lying in order not to appear weak.

Certainly US officials could have been fooled by this stance. But combined with the earlier story, showing that the administration was more concerned with building a case than with finding the truth, Drogin's article is damning indeed.

And remember, the New Republic was prowar, vigorously so.

posted at 7:58 AM | comment or permalink

On bended knee. I've got one bone to pick with Robert Kuttner's column in today's Boston Globe: he can't be sure that George W. Bush knew the Niger-uranium evidence was fake.

Other than that, Kuttner offers a first-rate indictment of the White House's lying ways, and of the supine media that let the Bushies get away with it.

posted at 7:58 AM | comment or permalink

Not the corrections column. Check out what InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds does when he's caught making a mistake. I'm surprised.

posted at 7:58 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Not on Keller's agenda. You wouldn't expect a blogger as savvy as InstaPundit Glenn Reynolds to make a rookie mistake, but he does today. After blasting a column by the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, he asks, "I wonder if Bill Keller will exercise some adult supervision."

I wonder how Reynolds made it this far without knowing that the editorial and op-ed pages are under the control of editorial-page editor Gail Collins -- who, in turn, reports directly to publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

After all, the opinion pages' isolation from the news operation is one of the reasons that Howell Raines was treated with such suspicion when he was promoted from editorial-page editor to executive editor.

posted at 10:16 AM | comment or permalink

Baron's stock soars. Boston Globe editor Marty Baron is staying put, he tells his own paper's Mark Jurkowitz and the Boston Herald's Greg Gatlin. Baron's statement should put an end to speculation that he'll be brought to New York to serve as managing editor under newly named executive editor Bill Keller.

But Baron's stock is clearly at an all-time high. He and Los Angeles Times managing editor Dean Baquet were the only two outsiders who were seriously mentioned as possible successors to Howell Raines, who resigned in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair scandal. (Not that they were true outsiders, having both worked as editors at the NY Times.)

Both Jurkowitz and Gatlin quote Baron as saying all the right things about Keller. But the reverse is also true. In 2001, shortly after Baron had been named editor of the Globe, Keller told me that he had become a Baron fan during Baron's stint in New York.

Saying he had recommended Baron "enthusiastically" both to Globe publisher Richard Gilman and Times Company chairman Arthur Sulizberger Jr., Keller commented: "He's an editor of terrific judgment and integrity. I'm partial to editors who tell you what they think without nursing some political agenda, and Marty did that while he was here."

Yesterday's announcement marks quite a reversal of fortune for Keller, who was passed over in favor of Raines two years ago. To be sure, Keller had carved out a great job for himself, writing both a column for the op-ed page and long pieces for the Times Magazine. But there's no doubt he wanted the top job.

He could have dealt himself out of the running several years ago when, during his stint as Times managing editor under Joseph Lelyveld, he was asked whether he would ever consider taking the editor's position at the Globe. He said no. Months later, when Globe editor Matt Storin retired, the spot went to Baron instead.

Now, not only is Keller right where he wants to be, but Baron is in an ideal position: editing the Globe, publicly identified as a hot property, and with someone with whom he has a good relationship running the Times.

posted at 9:58 AM | comment or permalink

Those WMDs, discovered at last. This may not last long, so hurry up and do it now. Thanks to JM.

  1. Go to Google.
  2. Enter the phrase "weapons of mass destruction" (use quotation marks).
  3. Click on "I'm Feeling Lucky."

You'll get what looks like an error page. Read carefully.

posted at 9:58 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, July 14, 2003

Dylan's Japanese connection. News that Bob Dylan had lifted extensively from a Japanese book on his 2001 "Love and Theft" CD sent me running for Bob Spitzer's Dylan: A Biography (1989). Sure enough, just as I had remembered, I found Spitzer's account of an interview with Rob Stoner, who played bass on Dylan's 1975 Desire album and in the Rolling Thunder Revue. Stoner's recollection of a conversation he once had with Dylan in New York City is worth quoting at some length:

At three o'clock in the morning, in a city once referred to as "the most dangerous place on earth," Bob Dylan and Rob Stoner went on a walking tour that lasted until the sun came up. "We just wandered around until dawn," Stoner recalls. "Bob staring off into space with his hands in his pockets, walking with a bounce in his step. Taking it all in. Later I learned that this was something he did in every major city in the country. No one recognizes him and it allows him to feel completely free and relaxed."

As usual, Bob was preoccupied with plans for the tour, but mostly they talked about obscure rock 'n roll songs. Stoner was a connoisseur of old rockabilly standards. He owns a priceless collection of R&B 78s, including the entire Sun Records catalogue and hundreds of southern "race" records, and as the two men walked they tried to stump each other with a list of their favorite titles and corresponding singles. Bob was no slouch when it came to rockabilly. "He knew almost everything I threw at him," Stoner remembers. "Not just the titles but the entire lyric, too. He'd go into a verse like he was singing it only a couple hours before. The extent of his knowledge was mind-boggling."

Very cautiously, Stoner broached a subject that had been nagging him for some time. "Ever hear a tune called 'Bertha Lou'?" he asked Bob.

Bob nodded confidently. "Sure. Johnny Burnette and his trio. 19 ... 57."

"Fifty-six," Stoner corrected him, "but that's pretty good, man." They walked another hundred feet or so in silence. "The reason I asked is that it's really similar to one of your songs." In fact, it was almost a note-for-note duplication of "Rita Mae," from the Desire sessions. The melodies were exactly the same, and Bob's scansion followed Burnette's pattern to a rhyme.

"Oh, yeah?" Bob remarked, but it was a closing statement if Stoner had ever heard one.

"He never even asked which song of his I was referring to," Stoner says nonplussed. "He didn't care, and at that moment I realized that the line between plagiarism and adaption was so blurred that it wasn't even an issue for him."

A quick search of BobDylan.com turns up a song from 1975 called "Rita May," written by Dylan and Jacques Levy, that has apparently never been released. But Stoner's recollection neatly ties in with a piece in Saturday's New York Times by Jon Pareles on the Japanese connection, who notes that Dylan has always operated as someone who blends together lyrics and music from a variety of sources. Writes Pereles:

The absolutely original artist is an extremely rare and possibly imaginary creature, living in some isolated habitat where no previous works or traditions have left any impression. Like virtually every artist, Mr. Dylan carries on a continuing conversation with the past. He's reacting to all that culture and history offer, not pretending they don't exist. Admiration and iconoclasm, argument and extension, emulation and mockery -- that's how individual artists and the arts themselves evolve. It's a process that is neatly summed up in Mr. Dylan's album title "Love and Theft," which itself is a quotation from a book on minstrelsy by Eric Lott.

The extent to which Dylan, er, lovingly stole lines from a little-known Japanese book, Junichi Saga's Confessions of a Yakuza, is nevertheless a surprise. The details were reported last Tuesday in the Wall Street Journal by Jonathan Eig and Sebastian Moffett. Even Dylanologist Christopher Ricks of Boston University, who never has a bad word to say about Zimmy, comes off in the Journal piece as a tad disappointed.

A big deal? Not really. Dylan has always been pretty transparent about the way he works, even if -- on this particular occasion -- he borrowed from a source so obscure that it's a wonder it was ever discovered. Still, Dylan plays it both ways to an uncomfortable extent: he pieces together bits of found culture, sticks his copyright on it, and collects the royalties.

At the very least, as Pareles notes in the Times, Dylan should be generous the next time a rap musician asks permission to sample one of his songs.

posted at 8:27 AM | comment or permalink

Uh, sorry about that. On the second thought, the New York Times tell us, TVT Records' Steven Gottlieb is not litigious and has not lost control of his company. And thus we have another day, another "Editor's Note," and another massive corrective story.

posted at 8:26 AM | comment or permalink

Dept. of shameless self-promotion. I have reconfigured DanKennedy.net to promote my book on the culture of dwarfism, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes, which will be published by Rodale in October. Please have a look.

posted at 8:26 AM | comment or permalink


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

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