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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, August 09, 2003

O'Malley's mysterious signals. Archbishop Seán O'Malley today is receiving well-deserved credit for making a concrete (if underfunded) proposal to settle with the victims of pedophile priests (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here), and for announcing that he'll move out of the archbishop's mansion in Brighton.

What strikes me as a ruse, though, is the notion that the archdiocese will not sell the chancery property even though O'Malley will decamp for more-austere quarters in the South End.

The Herald quotes a "source familiar with church finances" as saying, "The chancery is categorically not for sale." The Globe offers, more obliquely: "O'Malley suggested he did not plan to sell the heavily mortgaged Brighton residence, which is coveted by Boston College, but instead would use it for church offices."

Why would O'Malley want his staff across town, inaccessible to him? Why does he need to keep St. John's Seminary, also located on the property, when the number of priest candidates is way down and another, cheaper location could easily be found?

The answers are obvious. Which is why it makes sense -- purely as a matter of sheer speculation -- that O'Malley is being coy in order to drive up the price. If he publicly announced he was going to sell the property and commenced negotiations with Boston College, then BC would hold the upper hand in a down market.

This way, he can delay negotiations indefinitely, and allow another potential buyer to come along and blow him away with an offer that he can't refuse. Assuming the settlement is behind him by then, that would mean more money for the Church's mission -- including its extensive social-services network, which has been badly hurt at the worst possible time by the mind-boggling misdeeds of his predecessors, especially Cardinal Bernard Law.

If I'm right about what O'Malley may be thinking, then he deserves all the credit in the world.

posted at 10:34 AM | comment or permalink

Friday, August 08, 2003

Extra! It now turns out that New England Cable News had the story about the Vatican document on July 28 -- a day earlier than the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune. Click here and watch "Church Critics Seek Charges."

Okay, let's get this out of the way once and for all: Media Log does not rule out the possibility that another news org reported this even before NECN. Hey, maybe someone even reported it in 1962!

And not only did CBS News not "uncover" this, but we now know that its Wednesday report wasn't even "the first time that this has been reported on television," as CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius told me yesterday.

posted at 11:46 AM | comment or permalink

Curioser and curioser. The story about the story regarding that secret 1962 Vatican document is getting increasingly convoluted.

The website Catholic World News posted an analysis yesterday attempting to show that the conventional interpretation -- that the Vatican was giving marching orders to cover up the misdeeds of pedophile priests -- is just plain wrong.

According to CWN, the document pertained to a much narrower matter -- priests who solicit sex inside the confessional:

The Vatican document deals exclusively with solicitation: an offense which, by definition, occurs within the context of the Sacrament of Penance. And since that sacrament is protected by a shroud of absolute secrecy, the procedures for dealing with this ecclesiastical crime also invoke secrecy.

In short, by demanding secrecy in the treatment of these crimes, the Vatican was protecting the secrecy of the confessional. The policy outlined in that 1962 document is clearly not intended to protect predatory priests; on the contrary, the Vatican makes it clear that guilty priests should be severely punished and promptly removed from ministry.

CWN specifically blasts CBS News, which claimed on Wednesday to have "uncovered" the document, and which reported that the Vatican "calls for absolute secrecy when it comes to sexual abuse by priests." In fact, though, the existence of the document had already been reported a week earlier by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, and the Boston Herald.

Today's Herald includes this piece by Eric Convey that covers much the same ground as the CWN analysis.

Yesterday, even as I was posting my own item on the scuff-up over CBS's self-aggrandizing "uncovered" claim, the Herald's Convey, the Eagle-Tribune's Gretchen Putnam, the Telegram & Gazette's Harry Whitin, and CBS News's Jim Murphy were going at it hot and heavy on the letters page of Jim Romenesko's MediaNews.org website.

And contrary to my report yesterday -- and to Whitin's assertion to Romenesko -- it now appears that the Telegram & Gazette did not break the story all by itself, but rather finished in a first-place tie with the Eagle-Tribune. Both papers broke the story on July 29.

The T&G's, by Kathleen Shaw, has slid into the paper's paid archives, but the Eagle-Tribune's, by Meg Murphy, is still online for free here.

posted at 11:07 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, August 07, 2003

It depends on the meaning of "uncovered." This morning, while I was driving to work, I heard a curious report on the radio. The announcer said that CBS News had uncovered a confidential 1962 document from the Vatican specifying how the Catholic Church should respond to complaints of child sexual abuse.

Curious because I knew that a copy of the report had been sitting on my desk at work since last week -- and that my colleague Kristen Lombardi had obtained it a few days earlier than that.

Upon looking into it further, I learned that the first report on the existence of the document was published on July 29 in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. The 923-word page-one piece, by Kathleen Shaw, began like this:

The hierarchy of the Catholic church has been instructed by the Vatican at least since 1962 to keep certain cases of clergy sexual abuse secret under pain of excommunication, according to Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso.

A copy of the directive was sent yesterday to U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan at his Boston office by Mr. Durso, who said he believes the church has been obstructing justice.

The next day, the Boston Herald's Robin Washington covered much the same ground in a story on page eight. His lead:

A Latin document bearing the seal of Pope John XXIII outlined a 1962 Vatican procedure for shielding sexually abusive priests, two lawyers for plaintiffs in cases against the church maintain.

Yet when the CBS Evening News began last night, here's how anchor Scott Pelley introduced the story:

We begin tonight with a surprising development in the sex-abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. For decades, priests in this country have abused children in parish after parish while their superiors covered it all up. Now it turns out the orders for this cover-up were written in Rome at the highest levels of the Vatican. Correspondent Vince Gonzales has uncovered a church document kept secret 40 years, until now.

The transcript does not appear to be freely available online (I got it from Lexis-Nexis). But you can read a version of the story on the CBS News website that includes this: "CBS News Correspondent Vince Gonzales has uncovered a church document kept secret for 40 years."

What is going on here?

Houston lawyer Dan Shea, who represents some of the alleged victims, is the person who has called the document to the attention of much of the media. Earlier today he told me, "The real credit for this goes to Kathy Shaw and Robin Washington. Hey, smoke and mirrors." As for CBS, Shea said, "They interviewed me for the piece. They spent an hour-and-a-half with me in my office in Houston. And I never even showed up in the piece."

I couldn't reach Shaw. But Washington's comment was succinct: "This is ridiculous. It's beyond the pale."

CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius, though, defended her network's actions. She said of the T&G and Herald reports, "I think they did a great job, and I think that we did our own reporting about it and put a piece on the air. It's that simple."

Genelius added that Gonzales could have broadcast his report earlier, but that he expended considerable effort trying to authenticate the document.

When I asked whether CBS's claim that Gonzales had "uncovered" the document might be fairly interpreted as meaning that the network was claiming an exclusive, she replied, "We never claimed any exclusivity on it, nor would we."

Well, maybe CBS makes a distinction between "exclusive" and "uncovered," but I seriously doubt that it's a distinction any typical news consumer would make.

The broadcast strongly implied that CBS was breaking news. It wasn't.

posted at 2:52 PM | comment or permalink

The Bulger aftermath, and questions for Chancellor Lombardi. After having spent a good part of the morning reading almost every word the Globe and the Herald have to offer on the resignation of UMass president Bill Bulger -- and having glanced at coverage in the New York Times and Washington Post as well -- I have come to a sad conclusion:

I've got nothing to say, beyond what I've already said.

Bulger's $960,000 get-out-of-town package seems excessive, given that his pension should run about $200,000 a year. He might have been talked into taking less rather than staying to face a newly constituted board of trustees with Alan Dershowitz screaming at him through every meeting.

Still, the man was under contract, and it wasn't going to be cheap to make him go away.

But with the Bulger matter having been so thoroughly chewed over, let's shift to a sidebar: the story that UMass Amherst chancellor John Lombardi may be named president -- interim, permanent, or both.

The Globe's Marcella Bombardieri reports that Lombardi -- who's been at Amherst for a year -- did a terrific job during his nearly 10 years as president of the University of Florida.

What Bombardieri does not report is that Lombardi failed to distinguish himself, to say the least, in a troubling academic-freedom case that came up last fall.

Economics professor M.J. Alhabeeb, an Iraqi native and a staunch opponent of Saddam Hussein, was paid a visit in his office by an FBI agent and a campus cop after they learned that he was against President Bush's plans to invade Iraq.

Alhabeeb pronounced the matter "not a big deal." But the fact is that a naturalized American citizen was informed upon and questioned because of his political views and his national origin.

Yet when the faculty senate met to discuss the matter, the Springfield Union-News quoted Lombardi as saying:

I have had, at some time or another, had my friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors asked about my activities, views, and politics in order to get one job or another. When we are talking about the FBI on campus asking questions, we ought to be clear about which activity we have.

Lombardi also urged that the UMass community "not be distracted over cases that are not fundamental attacks on free speech."

For his spineless performance in the face of a challenge to academic freedom, Lombardi was recently singled out for a Boston Phoenix Muzzle Award.

It's something he ought to be called to account for before anyone starts talking seriously about a promotion. The Dersh would be just the one to ask Lombardi the questions that need to be asked.

The next Sony? BusinessWeek has a fascinating piece by Jane Black on Apple's ongoing attempt to reinvent itself -- from a boutique computer maker that, despite its cutting-edge reputation, is slowly fading away to "a high-end consumer-electronics and services company à la Sony."

Her examples: the to-die-for iPod portable music player (the envious take note: Mrs. Media Log got me one for Father's Day) and the iTunes Music Store.

Thanks to FarrellMedia for pointing this out.

New in this week's Phoenix. I've got a problem with the Vatican's recent statement on same-sex marriage -- and its demand that democratically elected politicians toe the line.

Also, a Harvard study shows that the so-called liberal media are far more tolerant of conservative arguments than the conservative media are of liberal ones. But you already knew that.

posted at 9:13 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, August 06, 2003

Times signs write-o-matic Brooks. David Brooks is a fine writer, a provocative thinker, a sensible conservative, and a hell of a nice guy. He is also dangerously overexposed.

You can read him in the Weekly Standard, the Atlantic Monthly, Newsweek, the New York Times Book Review, the New York Times Magazine, the Times of London, and on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. You can see him on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. You can hear him on All Things Considered. Several years ago he wrote a briskly selling book about the nouveau riche called Bobos in Paradise. If he were a pop star, his agent would tell him to lay low for a while and cultivate an air of mystery.

Today we learn that he will soon begin writing an op-ed-page column for the New York Times. The news comes in the oddest of places: buried inside a Times feature today on summer jobs. Brooks is quoted on the subject, and his forthcoming new gig is revealed as an afterthought. (Note: After posting this item shortly before 9 a.m., I was immediately informed that Brooks's appointment is not news. Must have happened while I was on vacation.)

I'm sure Brooks is not looking for Media Log's advice, but I'm going to offer some anyway. Brooks can be a terrific op-ed columnist. But he's going to have to devote most of his attention to it and cut way back on the outside work. The Times job will be the most important thing he does.

Besides showing that the liberal media are far more open to conservative voices than the conservative media are to liberals, Brooks's addition will be welcome because he's so good at what he does. But if he doesn't cut way back on his outside work, he runs the risk of becoming not a writer, but a word processor.

Slick Howie. The Howard Dean described this morning by Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh sounds like someone who is pragmatic to the point of being cynical.

Lehigh doesn't draw the analogy directly, but that whatever-it-takes attitude, unattractive though it may be to those who have to interact with him personally, calls to mind another politician whom many Democrats are pining for these days: Bill Clinton.

Joe Fitz, paragon of objectivity. The funniest thing about Boston Herald columnist Joe Fitzgerald's screed (sub. req.) today is that you have to pay to read it online. The second-funniest thing is his lame-o attempt to wag his finger at the Episcopal Church for confirming Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as the bishop of New Hampshire.

Fitzgerald claims Delphic powers of insight, writing, "To more objective observers ... Robinson's ascendancy is an abomination, which is precisely how Scripture describes the kind of lifestyle he maintains." I guess Fitzgerald considers all that love stuff attributed to Jesus as a bunch of '60s-style hooey.

Even better, Fitzgerald quotes Martin Luther King Jr. as an authority for his side of the argument. Give Fitz this much: he knows King isn't going to complain.

Media Log update. Due to some recent changes in Blogger.com's software, I am now going to upload each morning's items as one post, rather than as individual tidbits. It'll save me a minute or two, and make it easier to post items in the order that I want.

This should only create a minimum of hassle to websites seeking to link to Media Log items. It is also the practice followed by many other weblogs, including that of the prolific Andrew Sullivan.

posted at 8:59 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

How to lose $400 million and not pay any taxes. First, make $400 million.

posted at 8:47 AM | comment or permalink

Do as he says, not as he does. Here is the original Lawrence Eagle-Tribune story from Sunday on Lawrence superintendent of schools Wilfredo Laboy, who can't pass a mandatory English-proficiency test and who outrageously asserts that he shouldn't be held to the same standard as his teachers.

A couple of great quotes:

What brought me down was the rules of grammar and punctuation. English being a second language for me, I didn't do well in writing. If you're not an English teacher, you don't look at the rules on a regular basis.


I should have never taken the test because I came here with a very clear understanding [from the state] that I had licensure.

This is really amazing stuff. Even if Laboy is technically correct about not needing to be as proficient as an English teacher, his inability to grasp the symbolism of the situation is appalling.

Even more appalling is that city leaders in Lawrence don't seem to care. And most appalling of all, neither does Governor Mitt Romney, the scourge of bilingualism, who is demagoguing the Democrats on minor changes they made to the voter-approved anti-bilingualism ballot question.

To be fair, Romney makes it clear that Laboy must pass at some point. But his solicitousness toward Laboy contrasts sharply with his bullying stance on bilingual education.

posted at 8:47 AM | comment or permalink

Judge not anymore. Now here's some quick action. On Monday, Herald columnist Joe Sciacca (sub. req.) reported on Thomas Rango, the federal immigration judge whose outrageous behavior reportedly included making Tarzan jokes to a Ugandan woman named Jane who was seeking political asylum.

Today Rango's gone.

posted at 8:47 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, August 04, 2003

Defending terrorism futures. Last Friday, during my weekly appearance to discuss media issues on WRKO Radio (AM 680), talk-show host Pat Whitley said he was going to take a controversial stance: in the 10 a.m. hour, he would come out in favor of John Poindexter's idea to create an Internet-based futures market aimed at predicting acts of terrorism.

Well, Whitley's attempt to make waves got overwhelmed pretty quickly. To an extent one couldn't have imagined, what seemed like a bona fide terrible idea when it was first reported last week was quickly embraced by media pundits seeking to be counterintuitive.

Here are the examples I saw -- and I'm sure I missed a few:

  • Beating Whitley to the punch, New Yorker financial columnist James Surowiecki wrote a piece for his alma mater, Slate, on July 30 in which he argued, "If the price of getting better intelligence is having our sensibilities bruised, we should be willing to pay it."
  • On Sunday, the New York Times' Floyd Norris suggested that the idea was a useful one, and explained why the US government had to get involved in order for it to work: "The answer is that Uncle Sam had been picked to play the role of designated loser in the gambling." In other words, if the terrorism-futures market were private (and there already is one), it wouldn't be as useful, since there would be some bets that no one would take.
  • Also on Sunday, the Boston Globe's Gareth Cook (ex of the Phoenix) reported that the market idea was just one of a number of creepy and potentially vital projects being undertaken by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the office that Poindexter will continue to head for at least a few more weeks.
  • McGill University lecturer Reuven Brenner, in an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal last Friday that was posted to the free OpinionJournal.com site on Sunday, writes in defense of the market idea -- but, in true WSJ fashion, argues that there is "no reason" for government involvement.
  • This morning, the Globe's Hiawatha Bray offers a defense. Unfortunately for him, he writes that "there's nothing to stop some businessperson from launching a similar project," showing that he didn't read Norris's Times piece. Or maybe he read Brenner's piece instead.
  • Also today, the Boston Herald's Ted Bunker, his weekly "Capital Focus" column, interviews former DARPA scientist Vincent Cerf, who complains that the political pressure being exerted today might have hampered the development of the Internet, an earlier DARPA innovation.

So, was the Policy Analysis Market, as the terrorism-futures lottery was formally known, a good idea? Damned if I know. I remain deeply suspicious for two reasons: the involvement of Iran-Contra figure Poindexter, and the notion that futures markets are far better at predicting mass behavior -- say, a presidential election, or changes in soybean prices -- than they are at predicting the behavior of a few mayhem-minded individuals.

But this much is certain: what had seemed like a deeply controversial idea when it was first revealed may not actually be very controversial at all.

posted at 9:06 AM | comment or permalink

Turning away readers at the Atlantic. The New York Times' David Carr reports this morning that David Bradley, owner of the Boston-based Atlantic Monthly, has a radical idea: turning a profit.

He plans to do it by raising subscription prices and cutting circulation, a move intended as a signal to advertisers that Atlantic readers are willing to pay a premium.

It's a fascinating piece on the daunting economics of publishing a high-quality magazine of ideas.

posted at 9:06 AM | comment or permalink


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

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