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Friday, September 19, 2003
Big Brother's contemptible
sneer. John Ashcroft is a pathetic
bully. Yesterday he
denounced the "hysteria" of those who criticize Section 215 of the
USA Patriot Act, which allows federal agents to examine library and
bookstore records (among other things) without a grand-jury warrant
and without probable cause.
(The Patriot Act, and especially
Section 215, is the subject of a piece I wrote for this
Ashcroft wants us to believe that
Section 215 is nothing to worry about because it hasn't actually been
used. But if he had no intention of using it, why did the White House
stick it in there in the first place? Besides, one of the prime uses
of a repressive law such as the Patriot Act is not to spy on people
directly, but to create an aura of suspicion -- to make you wonder
whether you're being watched, whether your reading habits are of
interest to the government.
And it's not as though the
government never actually snoops on people's reading
A few years ago, Monica Lewinsky's
interest in the phone-sex novel Vox became the subject of a
subpoena by Clinton persecutor Ken Starr.
The Tattered Cover, a well-known
independent bookstore in Denver, barely beat back attempts by a local
prosecutor to turn over purchase records related to a drug
Here's part of a statement issued
by the American
Library Association earlier
Attorney General John
Ashcroft says the FBI has no interest in Americans' reading
records. While this may be true, librarians have a history with
law enforcement dating back to the McCarthy era that gives us
pause. For decades, and as late as the 1980s, the FBI's Library
Awareness Program sought information on the reading habits of
people from "hostile foreign countries," as well as U.S. citizens
who held unpopular political views.
The fears of librarians and
bookstore owners are well-founded. John Ashcroft's making fun of them
only deepens those fears.
Johnny Cash overview. Ted
Drozdowski has a fine look back at Johnny
Cash's career in this
posted at 11:26 AM |
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Wednesday, September 17, 2003
Follow-up: Nike folds on
free-speech case. I think I'll move to California and sue Nike.
Why not? It worked for Marc Kasky.
Last Friday, lawyers for Kasky -- a
San Francisco-based antiglobalization activist -- and Nike
a settlement to Kasky's
five-year-old suit, in which the sneaker-making giant had been
accused of making "false and misleading" statements about its labor
practices in the Third World (see "Don't
Quote Me," News and
Features, May 2).
Nike will give $1.5 million to the
Labor Association, which
will use the money to monitor workplace conditions around the world.
What's bad is that Nike turned its
back on the First Amendment, just as it has been charged with turning
its back on its impoverished foreign workers.
Kasky, taking advantage of a
California law that allows any resident to act as an attorney
general, had accused Nike of what amounted to false advertising by
claiming in press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, and on its
Web site that its offshore factories were veritable workers'
paradises. Kasky was able to file suit because Nike, though based in
Oregon, does business in California (and everywhere else).
Nike, in its defense, had contended
that those statements amounted to political, not commercial, speech,
and were thus constitutionally protected.
The California Supreme Court sided
with Kasky, and ruled that a lower court could conduct a trial on
Kasky's suit. Nike appealed to the US Supreme Court. But after
agreeing to hear the case, the Court declined to issue a ruling last
June, apparently on the grounds that the case was not yet far enough
along. Friday's settlement prevents the suit from ever going to
What's got me ready to call an
enterprising lawyer is a quote from one of Nike's lawyers, a guy
named Walter Dellinger, that appeared in
the Los Angeles Times
on Saturday: "As much as Nike cared about First Amendment issues, we
realized there was no way to get the First Amendment issue back to
the US Supreme Court unless Nike were to lose at trial and all the
way up the ladder, which is not a very attractive or likely
Okay, here's my case: Nike is
making statements about how much it cares about the First Amendment
in order to persuade me that it's a warm, fuzzy company from which I
should buy running shoes. Dellinger's quote, therefore, amounts to
commercial speech -- and it's "false and misleading," since Nike
wouldn't have settled if it really cared about freedom of speech. See
you in court!
If you think that sounds
ridiculous, you're right. Yet it is exactly what Kasky argued
in terms of Nike's statements about its treatment of Third World
workers. And now the precedent established by the California Supreme
Court stands -- at least in California. But since companies will act
in such a way so as to avoid getting sued in California, the effect
will be felt nationwide.
This case was a mess from the
beginning. The problem was the gag reflex that kicks in at the notion
of giant corporations' being allowed to lie about how they treat
workers at their overseas subsidiaries. Of course, Nike never said it
had lied, but its defense amounted to asserting a right to lie
-- which is, in fact, protected by the First Amendment as long as the
lie doesn't stray into libel.
and a raft of media companies lined up on Nike's side. On Kasky's
were groups such as ReclaimDemocracy.org,
Club, and the Boston-based
Voting Rights Institute,
which argued in an amicus brief that corporations, as artificial
entities subject to government regulation, should not enjoy the same
constitutional protections as a person.
Think Nike's surrender won't have
an effect? Think again. According to an account in
Saturday's New York Times,
Nike has already stopped making public its annual "corporate
responsibility report," and is planning to put some limits on its
public statements as well. After all, it wouldn't do to have a bunch
of lawsuit-happy Californians poking around Nike's Web site and
arguing over the definition of "misleading."
But as the ACLU likes to say, "The
best way to counter obnoxious speech is with more speech." Let Nike
have its say, then scrutinize its statements and publicize the
Except that you can't do it that
way. Not anymore.
Get me a lawyer!
posted at 11:21 AM |
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Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Journalism, politics, and
Shannon O'Brien. Back in July, when WLVI-TV (Channel 56)
announced it had hired the 2002 Democratic candidate for governor,
Shannon O'Brien, as a consumer reporter, observers agreed that
O'Brien would have to take care not to be seen indulging her
"If her first crusade is against
alleged consumer fraud by the Romney administration, then there might
be some questions," UMass Amherst journalism professor Ralph
Whitehead told the Globe on July 11.
So what was O'Brien thinking when
she made a purely political speech before the Worcester Democratic
City Committee last night?
According to this
required) in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, O'Brien
whacked Mitt Romney, the man who defeated her in the gubernatorial
campaign, saying of his fee hikes: "We see now what the truth is
about not raising taxes. It comes a little late for me."
She also dumped on George W. Bush
and praised John Kerry, urging Democrats to drive to New Hampshire
and work on Kerry's presidential campaign.
As for her duties as a TV reporter,
which begin in two weeks, O'Brien -- a former state treasurer -- told
the crowd, "I'll speak up for people who have been ripped off by
businesses and I'll make sure that government is doing the right
thing by them."
O'Brien would be a lot more
credible in that role if she'd refrain from making what
T&G reporter Mark Melady described as "what at times
sounded like a campaign stump speech."
posted at 11:53 AM |
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Lies from a lying liar. It's
a rare day indeed when the media call the White House on one of its
mind-boggling lies. So it was refreshing to pick up this morning's
Globe and find this
front-page story by Anne
Kornblut and Bryan Bender that takes Dick Cheney to task for his
continued attempts to link Saddam Hussein and Osama bin
At issue is Cheney's
appearance on Meet the
Press this past Sunday. Among other things, host Tim Russert let
Cheney get away with this:
Now, is there a connection
between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center
bombing in '93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of
that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government
after the fact. With respect to 9/11, of course, we've had the
story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that
Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi
intelligence official five months before the attack, but we've
never been able to develop anymore of that yet either in terms of
confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know.
It's true! We don't know.
But we're pretty sure, aren't we? As the Globe notes, the
Czech connection has been "widely discredited." Kornblut and Bender
A senior defense official
with access to high-level intelligence reports expressed confusion
yesterday over the vice president's decision to reair charges that
have been dropped by almost everyone else. "There isn't any new
intelligence that would precipitate anything like this," the
official said, speaking on condition he not be named.
But the story goes on to note that
"69 percent of Americans believe that Hussein probably had a part in
attacking the United States, according to a recent Washington
Cheney knows a good thing when he
sees it. And he's not going to give it up -- the truth be
Duke! Duke! Duke!
Globe columnist Joan Vennochi has some well-considered nice
things to say about Michael
Vennochi -- who is exercised over
John Kerry's attempts to distance himself from Dukakis, under whom he
served as lieutenant governor in the early '80s -- writes of the
former governor, "He is a man of dignity and conviction. After all
that he has gone through in politics, he remains idealistic and
I also suspect that if Dukakis had
had this field to run against in 1988, he would have won the
Democratic nomination for president even more easily than he
You want some Velveeta on that
cracker? Salon has an interview with one
of my favorite conservatives, Tucker
Carlson, ex of the
Weekly Standard and now with CNN.
You've got to be a subscriber to
read the whole thing, but here is Carlson on what's wrong with the
talking-heads shows that have come to dominate cable news:
Well, what I think the
problem is in general and, not just with Fox, but the genre, is
that it encourages you to use a straw man. So for example you see
hosts bring on, "This is Jeffrey Mohammed X, and he's the
president of the Association to Kill White Motherfuckers," and
he'll be presented as a spokesman for black America. And then the
host will say, "Well, how can you support lynching white people?
That's just wrong!"
Well, of course, it's wrong!
This guy doesn't represent anybody! The classic flipside, which
I've seen much more, is that you get some 62-year-old,
semi-retarded cracker whose [sic] like the lone member of his chapter of
the KKK, and he represents white supremacists. How many white
supremacists are there in America? There are about nine, and
they're all mentally retarded.
Carlson has succeeded in defining
everything that's wrong with The O'Reilly Factor and
Hannity & Colmes in two paragraphs. For that, I can almost
forgive him for The Spin Room.
Salon is also running
excerpts from Carlson's book, Politicians, Partisans and
Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News.
posted at 8:28 AM |
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Monday, September 15, 2003
John Burns's disturbing
whodunit. The New York Times' John Burns, whose courageous
reporting and darkly lyrical dispatches while Baghdad was under siege
comprised some of the best journalism of the war in Iraq, has
astounding things to say on
the Editor & Publisher website.
The piece -- excerpted from an oral
history -- demands to be read in full. But here is what is sure to be
the most controversial paragraph:
In one case, a
correspondent actually went to the Internet Center at the
Al-Rashid Hotel and printed out copies of his and other people's
stories -- mine included -- specifically in order to be able to
show the difference between himself and the others. He wanted to
show what a good boy he was compared to this enemy of the state.
He was with a major American newspaper.
The whole business is going to be
buzzing over whom Burns is referring to. Glenn
calls this and other Burns tales of pro-Saddam lackeydom as
"journalism's Nuremberg." Andrew
Sullivan describes Burns's
revelations as evidence of how "compromised and corrupt" much of the
reportage out of Iraq was, and I won't disagree.
Burns calls to mind nothing
so much as the admission by CNN's Eason Jordan earlier this year that
his operation engaged in years
of shameful toadying to
Saddam Hussein's regime in order to maintain access.
Whether you're prowar, as Burns
seems to be, or antiwar, as Media Log is, you don't want to be forced
to depend on media that cover up evil in the course of doing what
they think are their jobs. Their jobs are to tell the truth. Period.
If they get kicked out of the country, so be it.
Burns's revelations are sickening,
and they only increase my admiration for the bravery he showed while
stationed in Baghdad.
They should also lead to a lot more
than a one-day story.
posted at 5:28 PM |
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More on the Man in Black.
Guterman's tribute to Johnny Cash
in today's Globe is one of the better ones that I saw over the
weekend. He writes:
Cash transcended limits
cultural and political, not just music. Cash wrote a novel based
on the Gospel of Paul and shared racy jokes with death-row
prisoners; Cash had both Bob Dylan's and Richard Nixon's home
phone numbers. His ability to get on the same level with different
groups seemed infinite.
CNN last night rebroadcast
King's last interview with Cash,
from last November, to mark the release of his final album,
American IV: The Man Comes Around. Larry is his usual
disconnected self. After reading an intro about Cash's new album, he
engages his guest about his health problems, then asks:
KING: Can you sing?
CASH: Well, as well as I ever
could I guess.
Earth to Larry: how do you suppose
he made the album?
A better choice would be
Gross's interview on
Fresh Air, which was rebroadcast on Friday, the day that Cash
died. Not only is Gross a considerably more perceptive and
sympathetic interviewer than King, but the show was taped in 1997,
when Cash was in better health. I caught the last 15 minutes, and
look forward to hearing the whole thing.
Finally, you can watch the entire
video of Cash's "Hurt" by clicking here.
Legal limits. I love the
Music Store, but until this
weekend I had only bought a few individual songs here and there. On
Saturday, I bought Johnny Cash's American IV: The Man Comes
Around. It was simple and painless, but far from
Mainly it comes down to a matter of
value for price. I paid $9.99, which isn't bad. But by the time I had
burned it to a CD and stuck it in a jewel case, I was up to $11.
Amazon.com today advertises American IV for $13.49. So what
did I give up?
- Art. The songs
downloaded as though I had purchased them individually, with none
of the packaging that I would have gotten if I'd bought the actual
CD. I've seen bootlegs on the Internet where you get a chance to
download art, cut it out, and stick it in the jewel case just as
though you'd bought it in a store. Yet all Apple gives you is a
low-res image of the cover that shows up in iTunes.
- Credits. At the
moment, the Apple Music Store is a Mac-only phenomenon, and the
only way you can access your music (before transferring it to a CD
or an iPod) is through iTunes. Yet Apple doesn't even take
advantage of iTunes' database capabilities by filling in
songwriting and production credits. Maybe 12-year-olds don't care,
but 47-year-olds do.
- Sound quality.
Okay, my ears can't tell the difference, but the AAC format that
Apple uses, though supposedly better than MP3, is still
compressed, and thus doesn't carry as much musical information as
a regular CD.
Innovative though the Apple Music
Store is, when it comes to buying a full album, you're paying almost
as much as you would in a store -- and giving up quite a
posted at 8:18 AM |
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MEDIA LOG ARCHIVES
Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.