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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.

Friday, August 01, 2003

What "embarrassment"? The normally astute Glen Johnson gets weird in his Globe report today on some delinquent property taxes owed by John Kerry and Teresa Heinz Kerry on their place in Nantucket.

In his lead, Johnson reports that the $10,000 bill is wholly attributable to sloth on the part of the Kerrys' bank, Mellon Financial Corporation of Pittsburgh.

Here is Johnson's third paragraph:

"It was our responsibility to make the payment and we are researching this matter to determine why the fourth installment was not paid in a timely way," said company spokesman Ron Gruendl. "We have sent the payment in the overnight mail."

The definition of a non-story, in other words. But then comes this:

Politically, the error could prove something of an embarrassment, coming at a time when Kerry, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is hammering President Bush over the fairness of his tax-cut policy.

"Something of an embarrassment"? Why? Because the Kerrys' mortgage company screwed up? This is insane.

A few months ago, our mortgage company failed to pay our homeowners' insurance in a timely manner. We actually got a cancellation notice. Fortunately, we got a "never mind" letter before Media Log was forced to go nuclear.

Johnson notes that the Kerrys have also had to pay some late fees in the past, though he doesn't say whether those were also the result of bank screw-ups.

But come on. If anyone should be "embarrassed" by the Mellon thing, it's Mellon.

posted at 11:01 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, July 31, 2003

"We are all sinners." President Bush tried to walk a moderate path in his news conference yesterday when he was asked about same-sex marriage. "I am mindful that we're all sinners," he said, sending a clear message that he sees hatemongering toward gays and lesbians to be as "sinful" as having non-biblical sex.

Thanks a lot, Mr. President.

The big issue on the table right now, other than same-sex marriage, is sodomy, a concept that has become nebulous and slippery as cultural mores have changed.

Recently, of course, the US Supreme Court threw out Texas's anti-sodomy law, which some predict will pave the way, eventually, for legal recognition of gay marriage. Bush opposes such evolution, much as Darwin's version continues to be opposed by many of Bush's supporters. In the end, opposition to either type of evolution is likely to be equally futile.

What's interesting here, though, is that Bush appears to regard sodomy as a sin, yet he does not explicitly define sodomy. He appears to define it as sex between two men or two women. But is that right?

Sodomy laws traditionally banned anal or oral sex between men and women, even if they were married. Over time, anti-sodomy laws came to be used almost exclusively as a way to persecute -- and occasionally prosecute -- gay men and lesbians for what they do in private.

A far better definition of sodomy was offered in March by Andrew Sullivan (sub. req.). Writing in the New Republic, he asserted:

It's worth noting, then, that from the very beginning sodomy and homosexuality were two categorically separate things. The correct definition of sodomy -- then and now -- is simply non-procreative sex, whether practiced by heterosexuals or homosexuals. It includes oral sex, masturbation, mutual masturbation, contraceptive sex, coitus interruptus, and anal sex -- any sex in which semen does not find its way into a uterus.

I realize this reads like a Ken Starr legal brief; my apologies for such dirty talk this early in the day. But this is important stuff, because Sullivan is absolutely right. If George and Laura get it on in ways guaranteed not to produce any more little Bushes -- and, given the First Couple's ages, it's safe to assume that they do take some precautions, or perhaps no longer need to -- then they are committing sodomy just as surely as those two guys rousted by the Texas cops.

Yes, indeed. We are all sinners. So, Mr. President, why won't you allow homosexual sinners the same rights that heterosexual sinners such as you and the First Lady presumably enjoy?

Note to the irony-impaired: Media Log does not actually consider any consensual, nonadulterous sex between two adults to be a sin.

posted at 9:13 AM | comment or permalink

No whining, please. I love the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. No, really. I mean, I don't know much about what it does, but I'm glad it's out there theoretically fighting for the First Amendment.

But this is kind of weird. According to a dispatch recently posted on the organization's website, we are supposed to be up in arms that the Eagle County Sheriff's Department posted a mug shot of Kobe Bryant online that is not "suitable for print publication."

Well, here's the photo. It doesn't look too bad to me. Some jaggies around the edges, but I've seen newspapers print a lot worse.

Don't take this as Media Log's commentary on any of the free-speech/fair-trial arguments going on right now regarding Bryant and the woman he is charged with sexually assaulting. This is just one small part of it.

But the Reporters Committee, frankly, is being ridiculous.

posted at 9:08 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Free and news-free. You'll find more news about the Boston Metro this week than you'll find in the Metro.

In the new issue of CommonWealth magazine, Jeffrey Klineman (free reg. req.) offers a smart take on the thin freebie tab, which has been a hit on subways since its debut two years ago.

Globe columnist Steve Bailey writes today that the Globe is thinking about starting its own competitor to the Metro.

And when I asked Herald publisher Pat Purcell last month about rumors that he was thinking of launching a Metro-like publication, he told me, "We're taking a look at doing something there. It has been an annoyance and has probably impacted circulation a little bit."

posted at 8:38 AM | comment or permalink

Harvard's secret police. The Globe's Jenna Russell reports today that the Harvard Crimson is suing the university to gain access to the campus police log -- a public record under Massachusetts law, but Harvard is claiming an exemption on the grounds that it is a private institution.

The students argue, logically enough, that since Harvard police officers have the power of arrest, they should be held to the same standard as police officers everywhere.

Here's some background. On July 11, the Crimson reported that the Harvard police were cutting back on the amount of information they would release to the public -- and thus, by extension, to the paper.

Then, on July 18, the Crimson reported that the police had decided to loosen up a bit, although they were still refusing to release as much information as they had before. Among the forbidden news: reports of attempted suicide and sexual assault.

Suppressing such news would appear to be more about protecting Harvard's image than about any legitimate police function.

As civil-liberties lawyer and Phoenix contributor Harvey Silverglate told the Crimson, "You would think that if they're really professional they would act like real police officers."

posted at 8:38 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

In Lowell, college radio goes corporate. Students, faculty members, and community activists will meet with UMass Lowell chancellor William Hogan and other administrators on Wednesday to protest a contract to turn over 25 weekly hours of programming on the student-run radio station to the Lowell Sun.

Patrick Murphy, music director for WJUL Radio (91.5 FM), estimates that as many as 100 to 200 people may turn out for the meeting, which will begin at 6 p.m. in the multi-purpose room of the North Campus Library.

"This station has been student-run for 50 years, and they came in behind our backs and set all this up without even coming to us first," says Murphy. "This could affect every college station everywhere."

In an age of increasing corporate media concentration, Murphy fears that the relationship with the Sun -- owned by Dean Singleton's Denver-based MediaNews Group -- will lead to the "homogenization" of a station that bills itself as "Real Underground Radio." Murphy also warns that the Sun's involvement may eventually lead to the demise of programs that serve Lowell's ethnic communities, such as Café Latino and Voice of Cambodian Children.

"Is a Cambodian show profitable? Absolutely not. But is it essential and important? Absolutely," says Murphy.

Expressing similar concerns is Victoria Fahlberg, director of One Lowell, a coalition of a dozen immigrant and social-services organizations. She plans to attend the Wednesday meeting to press for assurances that immigrant programming will remain intact, and that the Sun will not be given even more hours as time goes on.

"People thought that before any contract was signed that they would talk to them about it. And that's where people are feeling really uncomfortable -- it's that they feel that their voice wasn't heard, Fahlberg says. "There's a trust issue, I guess, at this point."

But Christine Dunlap, the university's executive director of communications and marketing, who will oversee the relationship with the Sun, says such fears are groundless -- although she concedes that, "in retrospect, I think we should have been talking to the students more than we did."

According to Dunlap and Kendall Wallace, the Sun's president and publisher, the Sun will produce a weekday news show from 5 to 10 a.m. Dunlap calls it "very much like WBZ, but with a Merrimack Valley focus," a reference to Boston's top-rated all-news station. Wallace says it will be a cross between WBZ and public radio, with news, sports, weather, and traffic. There will be no advertising, although Wallace says commercial underwriters will be sought -- an arrangement that will be familiar to anyone who listens to Boston's two big public stations, WBUR and WGBH.

With a range of about 15 to 20 miles, WJUL, with 1400 watts of power, reaches just about all of the Merrimack Valley, Dunlap says.

As for what the relationship will mean for the future of the station, Wallace and Dunlap paint a positive picture: a full-time staff person, whose $40,000-a-year salary will be picked up by the Sun; a new studio, also to be paid for by the Sun, which will most likely be located in Fox Hall, a residence and student-activities center (the Tsongas Arena, an early contender, has been ruled out); and opportunities for internships.

Dunlap insists that the arrangement does not signal any reduction in the university's commitment to community programming on 'JUL, and that the 25 hours a week being turned over to the Sun will not be increased. She does note that a yet-to-be named editorial board of students, faculty, and community representatives may decide to make further changes in programming, but says of the students, "If they're willing to work with us, I honestly believe it will be a better experience for everybody."

The partnership with the Sun, she adds, grew out of talks that began about a year ago, and that coincided with a mandate from the UMass board of trustees to maximize the use of its radio stations at all of its campuses.

Wallace says the Sun has wanted to get into the radio business for some time, and that it may buy a commercial station if the opportunity presents itself. The Sun has set up a nonprofit entity to manage the WJUL show, which will be hosted by a Sun staff member, John Collins, and which could debut in as soon as two weeks.

As for whether the move had its origins in Lowell or Denver, Wallace says, "MediaNews is one of the leading forces in the country for cross-ownership, but they haven't driven this, no. They're aware of the idea, they like it, they think it's a step in the right direction."

It may turn out that what the relationship represents is worse than the reality. As Dunlap notes, the show will be broadcast at a time when most students are "either sleeping or in class." And -- let's be honest -- it could be a boon to Merrimack Valley residents looking for local news and traffic reports at the beginning of the day.

At the same time, though, the Sun program constitutes a serious commercial encroachment by a media conglomerate into college radio -- the closest thing there is to independent radio in the age of deregulation.

Murphy says that WJUL and similar small college stations are about the only place where noncommercial punk, hip-hop, and the like can be heard these days. The Sun agreement would not appear to threaten that, but who's to say what another financially strapped public university might do in league with a media conglomerate?

Murphy rightly observes that this is about a lot more than one show on one station. Indeed, he says, it's about "music and ideas that would otherwise go unheard and that aren't heard anywhere else on the dial."

posted at 5:16 PM | comment or permalink

Lies, damn lies, and polls. No sooner did I post an item about the latest USA Today poll regarding attitudes toward homosexuality than TB and JVC pointed me to another, later, story that appears to place a completely different interpretation on the same numbers.

In today's USAT, Susan Page reports:

Americans have become significantly less accepting of homosexuality since a Supreme Court decision that was hailed as clearing the way for new gay civil rights, a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll has found. After several years of growing tolerance, the survey shows a return to a level of more traditional attitudes last seen in the mid-1990s.

The headline: an unequivocal "Poll Shows Backlash on Gay Issues."

Yet I wasn't hallucinating when I posted this link to Page's Monday story, headlined "Gay Rights Tough to Sharpen into Political 'Wedge Issue.'" Here's the money graf:

Strategists in both parties caution that the public's views are changing too rapidly to provide an easy answer. A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll indicates that public attitudes toward homosexuals are in the midst of a transformation, though the issues involved remain controversial. Analysts say the shift is fueled by a self-perpetuating cycle: More gay men and lesbians are open about their sexual orientation, prompting some of their family members and co-workers to revise their views. That in turn makes it easier for others to come out of the closet.

Regarding the sliding numbers, Page wrote in her earlier story, "Analysts at Gallup said the question would be asked again to test whether the finding reflected a change in attitudes or a temporary blip." Her follow-up suggests no such doubt about the veracity of the results.

A careful read of both stories suggests that Page was being cautiously optimistic about the poll's implications for gays and lesbians on Monday, and cautiously pessimistic today. I find it interesting that Monday's story ran on page 10A, whereas today's is on the front.

So what is going on here?

posted at 11:10 AM | comment or permalink

Crittenden's souvenirs. The Herald's gung-ho embedded reporter, Jules Crittenden, has not only been cleared in the matter of those souvenirs he grabbed in Iraq, but the US Customs Service has actually returned most of them to him.

At least that's what this account in today's Herald says.

Here's an April 25 Globe story by Geoff Edgers and Mark Jurkowitz on the initial inquiry. And here is a commentary by the Poynter Institute's Bob Steele that was posted to Poynter.org on April 23.

Crittenden shouldn't have done it; Steele went so far as to call what Crittenden and other reporters did an example of "terrible ethical judgment." Plenty of other reporters came back empty-handed.

But apparently Crittenden has been proved right about this: it wasn't a criminal matter.

posted at 8:50 AM | comment or permalink

Bush and gays. Q: Why is Senate Republican leader Bill Frist, generally regarded as a moderate, pushing for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, while George W. Bush, a conservative's conservative, is waffling? A: Because Karl Rove is smarter than Frist.

A new USA Today poll shows that Americans are far more accepting of gay and lesbian relationships than they were just a few years ago -- and that, as more people come out, the acceptance continues to grow. Susan Page writes:

More than half of those surveyed said a friend, relative or co-worker had personally told them that he or she was gay; that's more than double the percentage in 1985. Nearly one-third said they had become more accepting of gay people in recent years. Just 8 percent said they had become less accepting.

That's why Bush is ignoring Pat Robertson. Unfortunately, it also explains why he's playing the good cop to Frist's bad. To win election in 2004, Bush needs to mobilize his fundamentalist base while not scaring away moderates.

The solution: use surrogates to appease the wingnuts while staying above the fray. Progressives need to call Bush on this as loudly and as frequently as they can, and make sure he doesn't get away with it.

posted at 8:50 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, July 28, 2003

Conventional chaos. With the Democratic Convention scheduled to begin in exactly one year, the Globe and the Herald today both take a look at how Boston is going to handle thousands of delegates, media, and hangers-on. And it ain't pretty.

On page one of the Globe, Yvonne Abraham and Corey Dade report that "getting through the next 12 months requires $50 million, and logistical nightmares for officials and ordinary residents that are becoming clearer, and more daunting, by the day." How's this for starters: the likelihood that North Station will be closed for the week.

The editorial page tries to be optimistic, but betrays some jitters: "Labor agreements are still unsigned, and the Boston police could create difficulties if they attempt to use public safety at the convention as leverage with Mayor Menino. Their long-term interests would be better served by showing a positive side of Boston to the nation." Yeah, no kidding.

Herald columnist Joe Sciacca (sub. req.) begins somewhat more directly: "Starting today, you have one year to plot your escape."

I hate to be a pessimist (actually, that's not true), but does anyone think this is going to work?

posted at 10:43 AM | comment or permalink

Arithmetical abnormalities. The Globe "Ideas" section yesterday ran a piece by Harvard economist Benjamin Friedman arguing that the Bush deficit will bring economic growth to a halt. Certainly Friedman appears to be well within the economic mainstream in that regard.

But Friedman's third paragraph begins, "One war, two terrorist attacks, and three tax cuts later ..." Hmm. Isn't that one terrorist attack and two wars? Or am I missing something?

posted at 10:43 AM | comment or permalink

New in this week's Phoenix. Well, it's been out since last Thursday, but I'm just back from vacation. I've got a piece on the Bush administration's prevarications on why it wanted to go to war with Iraq -- a record of deception that goes right back to 9/11, and of which the Nigerien uranium is just a small part.

posted at 10:42 AM | comment or permalink


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

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