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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, August 15, 2003

Darkness, followed by light. The lights are pretty much back on, according to this story on Talk about more alleged news. Don't get me wrong -- it was obviously a big story. But, honestly, once terrorism was ruled out (and it was, pretty quickly), how much do you need to know?

I did tune in long enough to watch what may be the best question anyone has ever asked Senator Hillary Clinton. On Larry King Live, Wolf Blitzer asked: Senator, everybody's been getting likkered up for hours. Aren't they going to run wild tonight?

Okay, I exaggerate, but not by much. Blitzer:

Senator, the people of New York have responded well so far, but I have some concerns standing here on the streets of New York. It's dark, obviously, very dark right now. A lot of people are mulling around. I have seen a lot of crowds mulling around. Clearly for some -- for some misguided New Yorkers, there almost seems to be a festive atmosphere. A lot of people drink[ing] beer and other spirits up if you will.

Have New York law-enforcement authorities done everything necessary to make sure it doesn't get ugly in parts of New York City tonight?

Clinton was on by phone; I wish she'd been on camera so I could have watched her scrunch her lips. Anyway, she eluded the question and was boring to boot, so I won't quote her response. But at least Blitzer provided a moment of cheap entertainment during the Live Story from Hell. ("The lights are still out ...")

Ventura highway to oblivion. I suppose MSNBC, the number-zero cable news channel, deserves a little bit of credit for indefinitely postponing Jesse Ventura's prime-time debut. To my knowledge, this is the first time that the channel has ever cleaned up one of its train wrecks before it's aired for a few painful months.

Still, Nobody's News Channel will let Ventura hold forth on weekends, as it did earlier with right-wing hatemonger Michael Savage. Obviously Ventura is considerably more savvy -- and less offensive -- than the gay-bashing, garbage-mouthed Savage. But an on-air train wreck remains a distinct possibility.

This, from the aforelinked Jim Rutenberg and (ooh, sorry; with) Charlie LeDuff's account in the New York Times, offers a scary insight into how MSNBC president Erik Sorenson and his drones think:

One concept that the network tried this summer, according to someone present at the taping, had Mr. Ventura eliciting commentary from his guests while an attractive woman served up different topics.

Sounds like the bimbos who flaunted themselves at ringside back in The Body's days with the WWF.

That hissing sound you hear is a sigh of relief from Brian Williams, who escaped from MSNBC last summer and who now holds forth on the unwatched, but unembarrassing, CNBC.

posted at 8:58 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The Globe's confusing new website. Is it too soon to say that the redesign of the Globe's website is seriously flawed? After all, these things do take time. So far, though, not so good.

Aside from the look -- pinched and cluttered, with teeny type -- I'm having a hard time figuring out what the mission is. Ideally, you'd like to see the entire paper put online in a well-organized manner, with perhaps a few extras. But given that people at the Globe, like everyone else, are presumably questioning the practice of giving away their content online while watching their paid circulation fall, maybe they're trying to move away from that. Still, what they're moving toward is anything but clear.

Two observations this morning:

1. As a paid subscriber who receives the North Pole edition somewhere around 5:30 a.m., I often don't get late results when the Red Sox are on the West Coast. So I went to the online sports section a few moments ago and saw this hype: "A's 5, Red Sox 3: Red Sox stuck in reverse." But that wasn't last night's game; it was Tuesday night's game.

I backed up and clicked on "All of today's Sports stories," only to find the tertiary stuff that no one reads anyway. Finally, I backed up again, clicked on "Latest sports news," and found an AP story reporting that Derek Lowe and the Sox beat the A's, 7-3, last night.

Okay, that's better than nothing, but still not good enough. Presumably the late edition of the Globe has staff coverage of the game. But even though I'm a paying customer, I can't read that coverage online.

But wait! I just went to, the übersite that's separate (but not really) from the Globe's, and the lead story was a staff-written (by Bob Hohler) piece on last night's Sox win. So why couldn't I find it in the Globe's own online sports section? Pre-emptive defense: if it's there and I just missed it, well, believe me, I looked. This is supposed to be easy, right?

2. If you click on "All of today's Editorials and Op-Ed columns," you will get exactly what you're promised. There's also an improvement over the old site: an editorial cartoon by Dan Wasserman. But it's yesterday's. Again, the Globe is under no obligation to give away its content, but the concept of publishing the day's paper on the Web is being lost.

Am I being too harsh? Hah! On Monday, Jason Feifer (scroll down) wrote to Jim Romenesko's that "the paper's website has morphed from a user-friendly digital facsimile of a newspaper into something resembling the love child of Google news and a content-free blog."

Then again, Feifer also doesn't like the print edition's new pastel teaser boxes on page one, an innovation that has given Media Log a reason to get up in the morning. So maybe he's being unfair.

But the Globe Web folks, having set out to fix what wasn't necessarily broken, need to do some quick thinking. They could start by explaining exactly what it is they're trying to accomplish.

New in this week's Phoenix. I consider the career of Massachusetts House Speaker Tom Finneran, who's not looking quite as powerful these days thanks to the rise of Governor Mitt Romney and a small but growing rebellion in his own chamber.

Plus, an update of Tuesday's Media Log item on the suspension of John "Ozone" Osterlind, the morning-drive-time host on WRKO Radio (AM 680) accused of wanting to "eradicate" the Palestinians.

posted at 9:12 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Bullying language and a publisher's prerogative. Bad as the Vatican's recent statement on homosexuality may be, it does go out of its way to assert that lesbians and gay men must be treated with dignity (see "Rome Casts Its Ballot," News and Features, August 8).

Quoting from earlier Church doctrine, the statement says that "men and women with homosexual tendencies 'must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.'" This may amount to little more than hypocrisy -- and as the saying goes, "Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue" -- but at least it's better than the bishops' sitting around telling homo jokes over a few brewskis.

Unfortunately, they didn't get the message over at the Pilot, the official weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston. An editorial this week on the Vatican statement (second item), headlined "Courageous Document," begins with this sneering lead: "The GLBTQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) agenda is advancing quickly these days."

Like the N-word among African-Americans, the Q-word is sometimes used in a joking manner among gays and lesbians themselves. But for an official publication of the Church to invoke it is insulting, degrading, and utterly lacking in "respect, compassion and sensitivity."

As archbishop, Seán O'Malley is publisher of the Pilot. He should call editor Antonio Enrique in for a chat about appropriate language at the first opportunity.

The definition of a conflict of interest. A freelance reporter for the Globe's Globe West section wrote "about 300 articles" about the Newton Public Schools while serving on the state-mandated advisory board of her children's elementary school, according to this story by Sarah Andrews, in the Newton Tab.

Writes Andrews: "Newton conservatives say they have been complaining for three years that writer Gail Spector's work for the Globe's West Weekly section has been biased." It looks like they had a legitimate beef.

Ellen Clegg, the Globe editor who runs the regional news sections, called Spector's dual role "a violation of Globe policy," and said Spector would no longer cover Newton.

Newton conservative Tom Mountain gloats here.

posted at 12:00 PM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

WRKO suspends "Ozone" for two weeks. John Osterlind, the loud, raspy-voiced "Ozone" half of the Blute & Ozone team on WRKO Radio (AM 680), has been suspended for two weeks after telling listeners this morning that the Palestinians should be "eradicated," according to Michael Elder, the station's director of operations and programming.

Elder was unaware of Osterlind's alleged remarks when contacted earlier today by the Phoenix, which had received an anonymous tip that Osterlind had advocated "extermination" of the Palestinians. After listening to a partial tape of the show, Elder said, "Your source was pretty close to accurate," but added: "I did not hear exterminate. Eradicate is what I heard." (Disclosure: I am paid to discuss the media on WRKO's Pat Whitley Show every Friday morning.)

Elder said that cohost Peter Blute, a former Republican congressman, sounded aghast at Osterlind's outburst. "Peter Blute kept trying to reel him out of it," said Elder, adding that, at one point, Blute warned Osterlind that he was advocating "Hitlerian genocide." Blute could not immediately be reached for comment.

Osterlind, contacted at home, denied the allegation, saying, "It was dancing around that line, but never once did the words come out of my mouth that the Palestinians should be eradicated. But the bad ones, definitely." Several minutes later, he added, "Arafat, sure, you know, him and his people, no doubt."

This afternoon on the WRKO website, under the heading "Today on Blute & Ozone," is this: "After two more suicide bombings in Israel the other day, a frustrated Ozone wants to rid the world of anti-Israeli Pallestines [sic]. Peter says there is, more violence that occurs on a daily basis, in Massachusetts than Israel [sic! sic! sic!]."

In explaining his decision to suspend Osterlind, Elder said, "I can't let that kind of language against a whole race of people go on the airways unpunished. Other people are going to get the idea that it's okay. It's not okay. That kind of language I'm just not going to let on the radio station." He added: "Quite frankly, I just don't think that's a good way to run talk radio."

Osterlind's suspension comes about a month after Elder suspended syndicated talk-show host Michael Savage's show for one day, following Savage's homophobic outburst on what turned out to be his final appearance on MSNBC.

Neither Elder nor Osterlind could say whether the two-week suspension would be paid or unpaid. Elder said the terms of Osterlind's contract probably require that it be paid.

Osterlind seemed stunned this afternoon, describing the events that led to his suspension as a combination of an aggressive approach on his part and outrageous calls from some listeners. He said that when callers suggested eradicating all Palestinians -- and, in one case, the entire "Arab street" -- he replied, "Are you nuts?"

He described his conversation with Elder like this: "He said he'd gotten some calls, and that he had to do something to appease the people who are upset." Asked whether he believed he himself had made a mistake, Osterlind replied, "Maybe baiting the listeners into calling and saying something like that."

He added: "You do a talk show, you talk about controversial things. I've been doing this a long time, and it's the first time I've ever been suspended. I just don't think he [Elder] liked the whole tone of the segment."

A pause, and then this:

"I'm just a peace-lovin' person, Dan."

posted at 4:39 PM | comment or permalink

Hey, Rupe! Media Log is Fair and Balanced (TM), too! And I mean it the way I presume you mean it, at least when you're talking among yourselves over drinks and cigars: ironically, with a good laugh at the rubes you've bamboozled into thinking that it's true.

Anyway, Fox is suing Al Franken for trademark infringement, charging that the title of his forthcoming book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, would "blur and tarnish" the image of the Fox News Channel. (So why aren't they suing Sean Hannity?)

It gets better. According to this account in the New York Times, Fox contends, "Franken is neither a journalist nor a television news personality. He is not a well-respected voice in American politics; rather, he appears to be shrill and unstable. His views lack any serious depth or insight."

Not to appear to take this drivel seriously, but anyone who has paid any attention whatsoever knows that Franken's political analysis is as deep and serious as that of anyone on Fox, with the possible exception of Britt Hume. It's just that Franken also happens to be a very funny guy.

Here's a Q&A with Franken on his book -- and on his recent confrontation with Bill O'Reilly, who didn't like it one bit when Franken exposed O'Reilly's claim to have won a Peabody Award as something other than the truth.

Berkowitz online. The Boston Globe's website redesign is now well along (Woo, hoo! It looks like the Herald's!), and Peter Berkowitz's essay on the raging moderate known as George W. Bush can be read here.

On the other hand, I was going to link to James Carroll's excellent Globe column today on anti-Semitism within the Catholic Church (yes, he's got something new to say) -- but today's editorials and op-ed columns were not online. Perhaps they will be later this morning.

posted at 9:01 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, August 11, 2003

Q: Is Bush a moderate or an extremist? A: Both! Peter Berkowitz, writing in the Globe's Ideas section yesterday, wants you to believe that George W. Bush isn't really a right-wing crazy. His evidence: the president has been generally moderate on cultural issues such as religion, abortion, gay and lesbian rights, affirmative action, even his court appointments. Plus, he's got black people in his Cabinet! (No link. The Globe's website is in the midst of redesign hell, but Berkowitz's piece might pop up here later today.)

Sorry, but this is argument by straw man. I'm prepared to accept all or most of the above, although I have some quibbles. Certainly a few of Bush's judicial picks have been dangerously right-wing, for instance. And the president's views on homosexuality, although arguably within the mainstream of moderate conservatism, are ugly nevertheless: no marriage, no civil unions, not even domestic-partner benefits.

But, still, what Berkowitz does is raise a whole host of matters on which Bush is moderate in order to frame the two really important issues -- his budget-busting tax cuts and his hyperaggressive foreign policy -- in a less threatening way.

On taxes, Bush really is a right-wing crazy. For some non-fuzzy math, check out this chart (PDF format) put together by Citizens for Tax Justice. Okay, I know you're not really going to take a look, so here's the lead:

As a result of the three major tax cuts enacted at President Bush's instigation in 2001, 2002 and 2003, taxes on the best-off one percent of Americans will fall by 17 percent by the end of this decade. For the remaining 99 percent of taxpayers, the average tax reduction will be 5 percent.

The share of total federal taxes paid by the best-off one percent will fall from 23.7 percent to 21.3 percent in 2010 compared to prior law -- a drop of 2.4 percentage points. The top one percent is the only income group with a substantial reduction in its share of the total federal tax burden.

Berkowitz seems to think that Bush's runaway spending shows that he's not really a conservative when it comes to budgetary matters. He's right! In fact, it demonstrates that Bush is a radical who wants to match or even exceed the borrow-and-spend policies of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, running up hundreds of billions of dollars in debt, a situation that benefits wealthy bond-holders, but certainly no one else.

As for foreign policy, what needs to be said? Here's Berkowitz on the run-up to the war in Iraq:

Today, Bush's critics, usually upholders of international law, rarely acknowledge the manifestly inaccurate and incomplete accounting of WMD that Saddam submitted to the UN Security Council in December 2002. This put him in clear material breach of Resolution 1441, which was unanimously passed by the Security Council one month before. On the Bush administration's reasonable reading, Saddam's defiance of 1441's terms authorized the use of force to disarm him and suggested he had WMD to hide.

Who are these critics who refuse to acknowledge the lies contained in Saddam's December 2002 report? Berkowitz doesn't say. This is, in fact, another straw man. It was, after all, UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix who took the lead in denouncing Saddam's refusal to come clean about the weapons of mass destruction that he had been known to possess in the past.

But in the absense of the imminent threat that Bush and Tony Blair talked about so many times, Blix and most of the rest of the world called for a stepped-up inspections regime, not war. The Bush administration kept pushing for war, building a disingenuous case on not just those 16 words, but on phony claims about aluminum tubes, doctored intelligence, and allegations of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Berkowitz concludes of Bush:

[A]s his administration makes its mistakes, rolls with the punches, and adapts to changing circumstances, the president reveals himself to be a pragmatic conservative who knows in his gut that it is a liberal welfare state that he wishes to reform, and to conserve. This will continue to discomfit purists on both sides. And it may prove attractive to a majority in 2004, not only in the Electoral College but in the popular vote as well.

Berkowitz's argument, essentially, is that Bush is not uniformly extreme in his conservative views. Rather, he's moderate in some areas and extreme in others -- mainly the ones that really matter. Berkowitz intends all this as an endorsement. Seen in a different light, it looks a lot more like an indictment instead.

posted at 8:20 AM | comment or permalink


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

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