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Franz Ferdinand - Do You Want To
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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, September 06, 2003

Who's a freak? Gary Coleman is a former child star who's fallen on hard times and is now trying to raise his profile by running for governor in the California recall election.

At 35, he doesn't come across as either unusually smart or breathtakingly dumb. (Although it's pretty amazing that he couldn't name the vice-president.) He has no more business running for governor of our largest state than most of the other 135 candidates. And, oh yeah, he's four-foot-eight.

So how does the New York Times' Charlie LeDuff describe him this morning? As "a captive of a freakish body." Right in the lead paragraph.

Gary Coleman is a normal person whose dwarfism is caused by a serious kidney disease. For a Times reporter to call him a "freak" is offensive. No human being should be described as a freak because of his physical attributes. What was LeDuff thinking?

posted at 4:01 PM | comment or permalink

Friday, September 05, 2003

Rewriting history -- just in time for the campaign. News Dissector Danny Schechter has written a must-read exposé on Mediachannel.org about the making of DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, a docudrama about the Bush administration's response to the terrorist attacks that will debut this Sunday at 8 p.m. on Showtime.

This is a media scandal of the first order, and Schechter connects all the dots. Showtime is part of the Viacom media empire, headed by Sumner Redstone and Mel Karmazin, media executives who have repeatedly and actively sought favors from the federal government in the form of deregulation by the FCC. Bush's political mastermind, Karl Rove, was personally involved in getting DC 9/11 up and going, and the film was put together by Lionel Chetwynd, who has "a long history of serving Republican causes."

As Schechter notes, this is the first occasion that a fictional movie about a living president has been made since John F. Kennedy's leadership of the PT-109 was lionized some 40 years ago.

So here we have a favor-seeking media conglomerate making a propaganda film of the Bush presidency just as his re-election campaign gets under way. The idea of using that footage from last spring aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln is getting a little dicey, given that we're losing two or three American soldiers every day.

What we'll get instead is a fictional treatment of 9/11 that is guaranteed to make Bush look a lot more heroic and decisive than the real Bush did two years ago.

Here is Schechter's depressing conclusion:

DC 911 illustrates the direction our propaganda system is taking because it is also the direction that our news system has already taken. More story telling instead of journalism. More character oriented drama. More narrative arcs. More blurring of the line between fiction and truth.

DC 911: Time of Crisis is also a sign of the crisis in our media system. Made by a "liberal company," it may help re-elect a conservative president. It is the latest tool in the media drift to the right, but it is not the last.

posted at 10:58 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Correction. Although Globe reporter Jeffrey Krasner had initially displayed his pro-union sign on his desk, it turns out that it didn't actually become visible to New England Cable News viewers until he moved it off his desk and into the background of the Globe's newsroom studio.

posted at 11:36 AM | comment or permalink

Globe reporter suspended for pro-union action. (Note: This item has been corrected.) Boston Globe business reporter Jeffrey Krasner has been suspended for a week without pay because he displayed a pro-union sign that showed up in the background of a broadcast by New England Cable News, a content partner with the Globe.

I report some of the details about this incident in the print edition of this week's Phoenix. The story is online here. However, the punishment was handed down after the Phoenix had gone to press. Other details have emerged since that story was written as well.

Sometime on Friday, August 22, Krasner -- who worked at the Boston Herald and the now-defunct New England edition of the Wall Street Journal before moving to the Globe a few years ago -- placed a sign he had made protesting bogged-down contract negotiations on a part of his desk that could be seen in the background of the newsroom television studio.

The sign -- which reportedly said OUR WORKPLACE, UNRAVELING DAILY (a spoof on the Globe's ad campaign, YOUR WORLD, UNFOLDING DAILY) -- was picked up in an NECN segment that was airing from the Globe newsroom.

Krasner declined to comment, as did editor Martin Baron when I reached him Wednesday morning, before Krasner's suspension had been announced. Globe spokesman BMaynard Scarborough, in a statement released after the suspension, said, "The Globe respects employees' right to express an opinion, or to show support for their union. There are many ways to show such support. In instances where an employee interferes with the content of the newspaper or with a partner organization's broadcast or operation, the Globe considers this to be impermissible conduct and subject to disciplinary action."

Scarborough told me that the company would not comment on what punishment Krasner had received. But Steve Richards, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, which represents some 1200 Globe employees, confirmed the one-week suspension late Wednesday afternoon. In an earlier conversation, he described Krasner's actions as the logical outcome of a 32-month impasse over issues such as management proposals to subcontract non-editorial jobs and to eliminate seniority as a consideration in layoffs.

"I think the incident is indicative of the tension, anger, and frustration that is being experienced throughout the building," said Richards. "It's not the most pleasant atmosphere in the building right now, and I think this incident stemmed from that." In recent weeks, the Guild has resorted to such tactics as buying a billboard advertisement on the Southeast Expressway, outside the Globe plant, and picketing at Fenway Park.

Later on Wednesday, Richards denied that the Guild was behind an effort to keep Globe staff members off NECN's airwaves, even though staffers received a notice in their mailboxes on Tuesday afternoon that appeared to have the union seal of approval. The notice, titled "Stay Off NECN," read as follows, according to a source:

Because of Globe management's discipline of a colleague, members of the Globe staff are being asked NOT to appear on any New England Cable News programs for the next week (and possibly longer) effective Wednesday, Sept. 3. If you have any questions about this, please contact the Newspaper Guild ...

"That was issued not from this office, despite the appearance that it was," Richards told me, adding that he and other union officials were actually engaged in contract negotiations at the time that the notice popped up. He said he told the perpetrators, whom he did not identify, "Please don't do it in the future."

Like Krasner's sign-holding incident, Richards described the call for a boycott of NECN as a sign of just how tense contract talks have become. "Jeff is a great guy and everybody likes him," Richards said. "But this goes deeper than standing up for your friend."

The bystander in all this was NECN, whose airwaves ended up getting used as part of the Globe's contract battle.

Charles Kravetz, NECN's vice-president of news and station manager, said, "I've been assured by the folks at the Globe that they're handling this matter, and that there won't be any similar incidents in the future. And I'm very comfortable that they're dealing with this as an internal issue, and that they're handling it in a way that will be comfortable for us and for them."

Today's Herald also has an account of Krasner's suspension, reported by Greg Gatlin.

Stay of execution. A federal appeals court, bless the judges' hearts, has at least temporarily halted the FCC's attempt to deregulate corporate media. At least for now, one company will not be allowed to own a daily newspaper and a TV or radio station in the same city, and networks will not be allowed to gobble up even more local television stations.

Here is Lyle Denniston's story in today's Globe.

New in this week's Phoenix. John Ashcroft's holy war against pornography threatens everyone's free-speech rights.

posted at 7:27 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

The big get big-big-bigger. NBC is owned by the megacorporation General Electric. It's a business partner with Microsoft. It's a content partner with the Washington Post Company.

Obviously, the problem with NBC is that it's just not big enough.

Today the morning papers report that Vivendi Universal and General Electric are pursuing merger talks that would create -- as the Washington Post's Frank Ahrens reports -- "a media giant that would combine the top-rated NBC television network, Universal Pictures movie studio and several prominent cable channels."

The Wall Street Journal's coverage includes a chart, labeled "Fast Forward," that gives a good breakdown of who owns what, as well as what the combined company, NBC Universal, would look like.

My favorite, though, is a quickie update posted yesterday at the Motley Fool, the damn-the-bubble-full-speed-ahead website that hasn't been heard from much in the '00s. "Everybody has a chance to win here," enthuses the Fool. Well, everyone except those of us who are concerned about the effects of media concentration in a democratic society.

The most demented aspect of this merger-in-the-making is that, from NBC's and Vivendi's point of view, it's probably absolutely necessary, given the lead that behemoths such as AOL Time Warner and Disney/ABC have.

And so the demise of independent media continues. Someday, we'll all be working for Rupert Murdoch.

Public way, private gain. The Herald's Scott Van Voorhis reports today that the sweet deal granted to the Red Sox last year -- being allowed to shut down Yawkey Way, a public street, before and during home games -- is even sweeter than one might have imagined.

His lead: "The Red Sox pay only about $2,000 a game to use the city's Yawkey Way for concessions, yet game-day sales on the street generate an estimated $20,000 to $40,000 for the team and its concessions partner, Aramark Corp."

Little effect. I love Bob Ryan's column in today's Globe on Grady Little's decision to bench wayward slugger Manny Ramirez.

Ryan's money graf:

So now we know exactly what the Red Sox bought for their $160 million. Manny Ramirez is a gifted hitter of baseballs, of whom it can be said that he simply does not get "it," whatever that elusive "it" is. He has no business playing in Boston, New York, Chicago, or any locale in which the fans invest their time, money, and passion in the local baseball team. He is a frustrating and maddening figure, because, despite his recent actions (or nonactions), we all know deep in our heart of hearts that if there is one person in the employ of the Boston Red Sox who is capable of hitting a two-out, two-strike winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 of the World Series, it is Manny Ramirez, to whom, it is distinctly possible, said wallop would mean no more than if he hit a solo, seventh-inning home run against the Twins at City of Palms Park on March 15.

No doubt Theo Epstein and Larry Lucchino would get rid of Ramirez tomorrow if they could find a team dumb enough to accept his salary.

Unfortunately, that's not going to happen.

posted at 8:58 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

The wages of short stature. Virginia Postrel has an essay in the current New York Times Magazine about the recent decision by the FDA to allow healthy but constitutionally short children to be treated with synthetic human-growth hormone.

Postrel, who writes a weblog that's popular among the libertarian set, seems to be saying several provocative things, if I'm following her argument correctly:

  • Conditions that are problematic but are not diseases (such as short stature) should be thought about in different terms. People should be allowed to seek out treatment (or not) without stigma, but without any claim on the rest of us, either (i.e., no insurance coverage).
  • The marketplace naturally favors certain types of people -- not just those who are smart, pleasant, and honest, but also those who are tall and good-looking.
  • Banning employers from discriminating on the basis of height or attractiveness is a "slippery slope" that will eventually lead to your neurosurgeon having been chosen on the basis of a lottery.
  • Therefore, growth-hormone treatments are a perfectly normal response for parents seeking to give their kids a leg up in an increasingly competitive culture.

Postrel leaves out some crucial information.

For decades, hGH was given to children with a type of dwarfism known as growth-hormone deficiency. (I'm talking about actual dwarfism, which results in a stature considerably shorter than what Postrel is writing about.)

But as I note in my forthcoming book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes, hGH, originally derived from cadavers, resulted in some people's contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human variant of mad-cow disease. Read this Mother Jones report.

Synthetic hGH isn't nearly as dangerous; yet the possibility exists that its use leads to a higher incidence of cancer, according to this BBC report.

Postrel appears to suggest that it makes more sense to give kids shots to make them taller than it is to outlaw discrimination against short people. She needs to think again.

posted at 8:27 AM | comment or permalink


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

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