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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 29, 2003

Competition for USA Today? Reader JM today sends along an e-mail that clearly looks like spam. But is it? Here is a press release I found for the USA Times that is similar to the e-mail, and it obviously doesn't inspire a lot of confidence. Apparently it's going to be sold through some multiple-level-marketing system, sort of like NuSkin.

Says the press release:

This will be the first nationwide newspaper in 21 years! You Know How Huge USA TODAY is, so you can imagine the potential! The newspaper will be promoted by MLM. This is going to be a very big deal and their 5 level commission plan is awesome!


The press release directs you to this page at a site called, which describes the USA Times as "THE LARGEST VENTURE IN THE HISTORY OF NETWORK MARKETING!" It continues: "The USA TIMES is poised to take the nation by storm with a new kind of hard hitting journalism that people will want to see on their doorstep every day of the week!"

So is it real? I did a "whois" search, and it turns out that the domain name and are registered with the same owner, which is a good sign, I suppose. It appears to be based in Miami.

And there is a classy-looking website for the USA Times that claims the paper will launch on January 1.

I wouldn't want to bet that the USA Times will ever come into being, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

posted at 11:14 AM | comment or permalink

Today's news today. The Globe's website has now been updated.

posted at 7:48 AM | comment or permalink

The wayback machine. I keep trying to tell myself that the Boston Globe's redesigned website isn't as bad as it looks. But it's 7:10 a.m., mid-morning for some of us, and yesterday's paper is still up.

Okay, it's the week before Labor Day. I'll let them call this the beta if they'd like. But come Tuesday, they should be prepared to convince us all that it doesn't suck.

Meanwhile, off to the New York Times ...

posted at 7:18 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Conflicts and ethics. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the Boston Globe's decision to pull one of its freelancers, Gail Spector, out of Newton. Spector had been covering the Newton school system for the Globe West section even though she served on the state-mandated advisory council of her child's elementary school.

It was an open-and-shut case. Unfortunately, Spector -- who I'm sure is a nice person who was trying to do a good job -- still doesn't get it. In the current Newton Tab, she gives her side of the story, attributing her demise to "a three-year vendetta" by the conservative Newton Taxpayers Association. She writes:

Questioning my ethics -- particularly for being an involved parent -- is a dirty tactic. My integrity is what I am and it's what's made me a successful reporter. I was, and still am, a fair, honest journalist, and I am proud of my work.

Come, now. Spector wasn't questioned for being an "involved parent." She was questioned for serving in the very same government that she was supposed to be covering. Here's a section from the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics:

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.

Journalists should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Spector also writes, "I would have resigned but the editor who hired me thought it was unnecessary." If that's true, then the Globe ought to schedule a seminar in Ethics 101 as soon as possible.

It is unfortunate that this lapse of judgment has handed a victory to an anti-school group whose leaders include Brian Camenker, a homophobic crank. But as the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

Camenker is right rather less often than that. But he's right in this case.

New in this week's Phoenix. Joe Conason's new book, Big Lies, is the latest sign that liberals are mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore.

Also, the Globe deletes a crucial paragraph -- and makes a state rep look like a vengeance-seeking monster. And the BBC engages in a mind-blowing bit of Israel-bashing.

posted at 9:09 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Get in the back and no one gets hurt. You won't find a more bizarre story today than this one, buried well inside the New York Times.

Headlined "Fear of Air Bag Sends Children to Back Seat, Saving Many," the article, by Matthew Wald, reports that parents have been properly terrified by stories that exploding air bags have decapitated and maimed babies and small children sitting in the front passenger's seat.

The response -- sticking them in the back -- may have saved hundreds of lives in recent years. That's good, of course. But it's unclear why this is better than getting rid of deadly air bags and instead re-engineering the front seat so that it's safer.

Or, conversely, since the incentive appears to be arming the front seat with a lethal weapon, why not just take a cheaper approach, and mount an AK-47 in the glove compartment of every new car? If the rider is four-foot-10 or shorter, blammo!

I am no libertarian when it comes to auto safety. I'm all in favor of mandatory-seatbelt laws, for instance. But air bags are a proven mistake, and government efforts to justify their continued use only compounds the mistake.

For a laugh-out-loud example of bureaucracy run amok, check out this pamphlet from the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NTHSA) on what you have to go through to get an on-off switch installed so that you can disconnect your air bag.

Air bags have been a hot issue for years in Little People of America, the leading organization for dwarfs and their families. It's an issue for drivers more than passengers: because most people with dwarfism are roughly the same size as everyone else from head to hips, they do not appear unusually short when sitting. In the passenger seat, the air bag isn't a problem -- or rather, it's no more deadly for them than it is for the rest of us.

But because their arms and legs are disproportionately small, a driver with dwarfism tends to sit much closer to the steering wheel. And that, as even the NTHSA concedes, is dangerous.

Sensible advice on Iraq. Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria, as you might expect, has some excellent suggestions for solving the chaos in Iraq.

Zakaria supported the war, and thus underestimates, I think, the degree to which the entire world suspects the Bush administration's motives and resents its thumbing its nose at the international community.

Still, Paul Bremer and company would do well to ponder Zakaria's outline of heavy international involvement and a long-term commitment. His conclusion:

The fundamental purpose behind the invasion of Iraq -- more important than the exaggerated claims about weapons of mass destruction -- was to begin cleansing the Middle East of the forces that produce terror. Were America to quit, it would give those armies of hate new strength and resolve. A failed Iraq could prove a greater threat to American security than Saddam Hussein's regime ever was.

Of course, it would have helped if George W. Bush had told us what the "fundamental purpose" was ahead of time instead of mindlessly repeating his aides' lies about weapons of mass destruction.

Good news, bad news. Boston Herald columnist (and former Boston city councilor) Tom Keane writes today that the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority has managed to overcome its hack origins and reinvent itself as a lean, mean, convention-snaring machine.

Even so, it appears that the only way it's been able to book any business has been to steal shows from the privately owned Bayside Expo Center and World Trade Center.

A well-run boondoggle is still a boondoggle.

posted at 8:43 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

A lying what? With what? The size of what? You are hereby commanded to read Russ Smith's "Mugger" column in the current New York Press. Yes, you may read the whole thing. But do not bail out until you've read his advice to John Kerry. It's in the second-to-last paragraph.


Eric Alterman has some thoughts on Kerry in his Altercation blog, too. Alterman heard Kerry speak at an off-the-record fundraiser. His conclusion: Howard Dean may have passion on his side, but Kerry -- despite "zero personal charisma" -- would probably make a better president.

posted at 7:36 PM | comment or permalink

The end of Ozone. Most of the time, when someone screws up he's given a second or even a third chance. Sometimes, though, a screw-up forces management to reassess -- to decide that the person who committed said screw-up isn't the right person for the job after all.

That's what happened to former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, who was forced out not because of the Jayson Blair scandal but because, in its aftermath, it became clear that Raines had fostered an atmosphere of fear and favoritism that allowed a con artist like Blair to thrive.

Not to compare WRKO Radio (AM 680) with the Times -- or John "Ozone" Osterlind with Raines, who is, despite his flaws, a great journalist -- but that's apparently what happened to Osterlind yesterday when program director Mike Elder let him go.

According to coverage today in the Herald and the Globe, Osterlind is stunned that he has been dropped from Blute & Ozone, the morning-drive-time show. And he denied to the Herald -- as he has from the beginning -- that he ever called for the entire Arab race to be "eradicated."

Osterlind was initially suspended for two weeks following reports that, on August 12, he called for the "eradication" of the Palestinians. The sequence of events that led to his suspension began when I received an anonymous tip that Osterlind had advocated the Palestinians' "extermination."

I asked Elder about it, and, after he listened to a partial tape of the show (he said a full tape didn't exist), he told me that he'd heard Osterlind say "eradicate," which was apparently close enough for Elder. (Disclosure: I'm paid to blab about the media on WRKO's Pat Whitley Show every Friday at 9 a.m.)

The suspension was reported exclusively on Boston Phoenix Media Log later that afternoon, with the Globe and the Herald not having the story until the next day.

When I interviewed Osterlind shortly after he'd learned about his suspension, I couldn't help but feel bad for the guy. He obviously didn't get it, and I can understand why. He'd been paid to be as outrageous as possible, he is not someone who's particularly well-versed on the issues, and he'd just gotten nailed for doing pretty much what he always does. On a personal level, I don't think he's got a mean bone in his body.

But you certainly can't blame Elder for taking advantage of the situation to elevate the tone of his station. Now let's see if he'll do something about his venom-spewing afternoon star, Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr, and syndicated host Michael Savage, the hate-mongering right-winger who holds down the evening shift.

Ten to 15 years ago, WRKO was a model for what great talk radio could be, with first-class hosts such as the late, great Jerry Williams, Gene Burns, Janet Jeghelian, and Ted O'Brien. Osterlind sneers in today's Herald that Elder apparently wants to turn 'RKO into NPR -- yet, with the exception of Burns, the station's stars of yesteryear were every bit as populist and occasionally outrageous (especially Williams) as today's fakers like to think they are.

Can the old formula work today? Well, David Brudnoy is still the ratings king on WBZ Radio (AM 1030), so clearly there is a market for intelligent talk. And Osterlind's dismissal of NPR aside, public station WBUR Radio (90.9 FM) pulls down good numbers while broadcasting hours of talk each day.

So maybe it's time for WRKO to try quality. It's certainly tried everything else.

A remarkable look at an unfit mother. If you haven't been reading the Globe's series on Barbara Paul and her sons, you can catch up by clicking here.

Reporter Patricia Wen and photographer Suzanne Kreiter have done a remarkable job of documenting the life of a mother who neglected her children, and yet who loved them -- and still does. Paul gave up her parental-custody rights under pressure from state authorities.

One minor quibble: I would have liked to see a stronger point of view. After all, it was Wen and Kreiter who spent nine months with Paul, not us.

But their even-handedness is a strength, too. We find ourselves emphathizing with Paul and yet understanding why social workers concluded that she was an unfit mother.

posted at 9:01 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, August 25, 2003

Catching up on the news. What could be better than coming back from a three-day weekend and finding more than 220 e-mails, nearly all of them spam? Good grief. I'm still catching up with the news, so pardon today's minimalist Media Log.

Of all the unanswered questions surrounding the murder of former priest John Geoghan, the one I find most intriguing -- if perhaps among the least important -- is why his accused killer changed his name from Darrin E. Smiledge to Joseph L. Druce.

The Globe and the Herald don't know why. So what is the story? Is there a character in some neo-Nazi or white-supremacist fiction named Joseph L. Druce? Was he trying to pull a scam? Perhaps we'll find out soon.

It's time to start listening to Scott Ritter. Actually, we should have listened to the former UN weapons inspector before the war in Iraq, but I -- like many observers -- thought his flip-flop on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction made him less than credible. And then he was silenced.

Today he has an op-ed piece in the New York Times in which he asks a devastating question: why -- if former Iraqi officials are to be believed -- did American troops allow looters to destroy records pertaining to the weapons program?

It's a question that demands an answer.

posted at 10:16 AM | comment or permalink


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

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