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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.

Friday, November 14, 2003

Newspaper Guild statement on Herald cuts

The Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston is deeply saddened by the layoffs today of 2 union members and the reclassifications of 2 others. (Three of the union members work full-time for the Commercial Unit, and 1 worked for the Editorial Unit as a part-time news photographer.) We will continue diligently to represent their rehire and other contractual rights.

We also we wish the best for the 8 veteran Guild members from the newsroom ranks who accepted early-retirement packages. Their absences will be greatly felt.

We remain deeply troubled that Guild ranks at the Herald have been depleted by nearly 10 percent in recent months through layoffs, buyouts and attrition. However, we appreciate that Publisher Patrick J. Purcell has made sincere efforts this week to spread the pain of staff reductions across the board.

As a result, today is a tough day for many of our friends and colleagues who work in jobs outside the Guild.

All of us who love the Herald and believe strongly in Boston's remaining a two-newspaper town are committed to getting through this difficult time and putting out the best paper we can.

posted at 4:41 PM | comment or permalink

Purcell, union president speak out. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell's statement just rolled off the fax machine. It states in full:

Regrettably, it was necessary for the Herald to reduce its workforce. This was accomplished through employee voluntary buyouts, retirements, attrition and the elimination of several positions.

As of Friday, 19 employees have been impacted. Of those 19, 12 full-time newsroom employees accepted buy-out agreements and one part-time newsroom employee was laid off. All impacted employees received a severance package.

A soft economy and increased expenses have caused many in the newspaper industry to take similar action. The Herald worked diligently to minimize the impact on its employees by reducing expenses in other areas throughout the company, and only after exhaustive evaluation of all aspects of our business did this course of action become necessary.

The 19 figure is lower than the 22 being bandied about (by, ahem, Media Log) earlier today.

Lesley Phillips, president of the Newspaper Guild of Greater Boston and a Herald staffer, says that 12 of her members were affected. Of them, eight had applied for the buyout and were accepted; two, including the part-timer, were laid off outright; and two whose positions were eliminated have "bumping rights," which means that they could choose to leave or to take other union jobs, a situation that would cause two other employees with less seniority to lose their jobs.

Phillips expressed "sadness" for those who find themselves unemployed, but also had some praise for the Herald. "In the past 48 hours I've been convinced that this company has done what it can to keep the impact low," she told me. "It's just been stressful. It's been a stressful number of weeks. We were waiting for this. Now we go forward and go on to fight another day."

posted at 4:21 PM | comment or permalink

The axe comes down at One Herald Square. Two of the Boston Herald's bigger names will be drastically scaling back their presence, as long-anticipated cutbacks at the city's financially ailing number-two daily are finally playing out today.

Television columnist Monica Collins and political columnist Wayne Woodlief have both been told that their contracts will not be renewed. Both, however, will continue to write for the Herald on a freelance basis. Collins will write her Sunday "Downtown Journal" column once a week (it may be moved to the Monday paper), and Woodlief will continue to write weekly as well.

Although an official announcement will not be made until later this afternoon, the word out of One Herald Square is that 12 union employees have accepted an early-retirement incentive known as a "buyout," and an additional 10 non-union employees -- a category that includes Collins and Woodlief -- have been told that their positions are being eliminated.

As of early this afternoon, word was that not all of those who are losing their jobs had been informed yet.

Herald spokeswoman Gwen Gage said the paper would release a statement at 3 p.m.

Collins is expected to spend a lot of her time on "Ask Dog Lady," a syndicated column of tongue-in-cheek advice for dog owners that appears locally in the South End News and the Cambridge Chronicle -- the latter owned by Herald publisher Pat Purcell's Community Newspaper chain. Collins also has a website, askdoglady.com.

Woodlief, at 68, is already past the customary retirement age. Nevertheless, he says he was "surprised" to learn that his job had been eliminated. "I've gone through the cycles -- mad, glad; well, not glad, sad -- and in a way I'm looking forward to some liberation, especially since I can continue the column once a week," Woodlief told me this afternoon. "I'll be around to haunt the politicians and afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted for next year for sure, and maybe beyond."

This has been a tumultuous year for the Herald. In the spring, beset by declining circulation and advertising revenues, Purcell brought in former Herald editor (and former New York Post) publisher Ken Chandler as a consultant, while leaving editor Andy Costello and managing editor Andrew Gully in charge -- a confusing management scheme that has led more than one staffer to wonder who was really running the paper.

The Chandler-ized Herald has been a distinctly downscale product, with a heavy emphasis on celebrities, gossip, and scantily clad women. The early returns, however, are mixed. The most recent circulation figures show the paper continues its slow slide (as does the Globe), though perhaps not quite as much as it would have were it not for Chandler's drastic steps (see "Tabzilla Returns," June 20).

The newsroom has been on tenterhooks since earlier this fall, when management announced it was seeking buyouts from union employees (see "This Just In," September 26 and October 3)

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Purcell can now right the ship and return his struggling paper to profitability. But with the bad news finally out of the way -- until the next time, anyway -- he's given himself a chance at least to change the subject.

Says Woodlief: "It's clearly not a happy day. At the same time, most folks are saying, hell, it's the Herald, we'll go on."

posted at 1:48 PM | comment or permalink

Thursday, November 13, 2003

This Republican filibuster is brought to you by the Fox News Channel. "[T]he producer wants to know will we walk in exactly at 6:02 when the show starts so they get it live to open Brit Hume's show? Or if not, can we give them an exact time for the walk-in start?"

Klaus Marre has the story in the Hill. Read it and gag.

posted at 5:21 PM | comment or permalink

A legend at 34. One fact really caught my eye in this morning's Boston Herald coverage of former Herald reporter Paul Corsetti, who died yesterday: he was 54, and he left the business 20 years ago.

Corsetti was a minor newspaper legend, going to jail rather than giving up a source and carrying a gun after he was threatened by James "Whitey" Bulger. I'd forgotten the details, and was fascinated to be reminded of them this morning. But to think that he did all of this by the time he was 34. Amazing.

The obit doesn't seem to be online, and columnist Peter Gelzinis's tribute is for subscribers only. Gelzinis, in particular, is in fine form, observing that Corsetti was a hardbitten throwback to the days when reporters reported and handed their notes off to "rewrite men," the guys -- and they were pretty much all guys -- who stayed in the newsroom and did the actual writing.

Gelzinis quotes Corsetti: "What I do is get the story and hand it to you ... writers. Otherwise, what the hell would you do all day?" (BTW, the italics are accurate, but didn't make the transition to the Herald's website.)

Here's an earlier Gelzinis column on Corsetti that you don't have to pay for. Shhh! Don't tell anyone where you found it!

Post-post-modern Dowd. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd today quotes Newsweek quoting the New Yorker. Who does she think she is? A media critic? A blogger?

No marriage, no protection: no justice. Media Log confesses to not having followed the Rosie O'Donnell case in microscopic detail, so maybe I should have known this already.

But I hadn't realized that Gruner & Jahr had been able to introduce into evidence e-mails exchanged between O'Donnell and her partner, Kelli O'Donnell, because -- as the Times' David Carr puts it today -- "she was not entitled to the same protection as a spouse."

Just another small outrage.

Book report. If you'd like to hear me talking about my book, Little People, click here and scroll down a bit. You'll be able to listen to the interview Here & Now's Robin Young did with me yesterday on WBUR Radio (90.9 FM).

This morning at 11:15 a.m. I'll be flogging Little People on the PowerNomics Radio Network with host Tom Pope (click here to listen); and this evening, sometime between 7:30 and 8 p.m., I'll be on Nitebeat with Barry Nolan, on the Comcast Network (CN8).

New in this week's Phoenix. The real stakes over the Republicans' phony outcry re the leaked Democratic memo from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

posted at 9:18 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

He's here, he's queer, he can't get not-for-profit status. Harvey Silverglate passes along this absurd story from the New York Law Journal. It concerns one Christopher Barton Benecke, who considers himself to be "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender" (all four?), and who wants to obtain not-for-profit status for a group that he founded called Queer Awareness.

It looks like it's not going to happen. Benecke ran afoul of the language police who work for the state of New York. They ruled that the word queer is indecent and degrading, and therefore is banned by a state law governing the names of not-for-profit corporations.

Thus, for Benecke, the price of being queer includes not being able to claim tax-exempt status.

Benecke is suing on First Amendment grounds. Needless to say, he should win.

Dark days for the Dark Lord. Newsweek has a tough cover story on Dick Cheney, and how his paranoid fear-mongering within the White House helped make possible the war in Iraq.

Even with all the weasel words, it's not a flattering picture:

[I]t appears that Cheney has been susceptible to "cherry-picking," embracing those snippets of intelligence that support his dark prognosis while discarding others that don't. He is widely regarded in the intelligence community as an outlier, as a man who always goes for the worst-case scenario and sometimes overlooks less alarming or at least ambiguous signs. Top intelligence officials reject the suggestion that Cheney has somehow bullied lower-level CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency analysts into telling him what he wants to hear. But they do describe the Office of the Vice President, with its large and assertive staff, as a kind of free-floating power base that at times brushes aside the normal policymaking machinery under national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. On the road to war, Cheney in effect created a parallel government that became the real power center.

posted at 9:01 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Blaming Kerry. The commentary over John Kerry's decision to fire campaign manager Jim Jordan is all the same: it's Kerry's fault, it's the candidate not the handler, his message is muddled, he's Gore II (a line pushed especially hard by Jim VandeHei in this morning's Washington Post), blah, blah, blah.

All this is true up to a point. But consider, if you will, the possibility that Kerry's biggest problem is that he cast a principled vote that he knew would be unpopular with the liberal activists who control the Democratic primary process.

I'm referring, of course, to his decision last fall to side with the majority in authorizing George W. Bush to go to war against Iraq. No, I wasn't happy with his vote, but I understood it.

Everyone -- even Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder -- believed Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Long-term UN inspections were the best way to go, something that is even more obvious now than it was then. But there was considerable merit to the argument that Saddam would give the finger to the world if there weren't also a credible threat of force coming from the US.

We didn't know then what we know now: that Saddam's WMD capabilities were vastly overblown, aided and abetted by Bush-administration lies over Nigerien yellowcake, aluminum tubes, and the like. Kerry certainly doesn't want to announce publicly that he was duped, given that almost the entire rationale for his candidacy is his deep experience in foreign policy. So he flounders and flops, trying desperately to explain his vote to party activists who will never fully forgive him for having abandoned his antiwar roots.

So perhaps the pundit who comes the closest to explaining the dire state of Kerry's campaign this morning is Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi, in a piece headlined "Kerry's Irreversible Error."

Vennochi's view of Kerry's pro-Bush vote last fall is entirely cynical, which I guess makes sense if you believe that (1) Kerry thought he already had the Democratic nomination sewed up and therefore (2) he was positioning himself to peel moderate independents away from Bush in the general-election campaign. That's a lot of presupposing.

But Vennochi gets it right when she says:

Reversing the Kerry slide is going to be difficult, because Kerry cannot reverse the single biggest mistake he made as a presidential candidate: voting for the Iraq war resolution. His vote represents the get-tough-by-getting-to-the-middle brand of thinking that is big in Democratic Leadership Council circles. That thinking, however, is not popular with grass-roots Democratic activists in Iowa and New Hampshire. It pushed them right into the arms of antiwar candidate Howard Dean.

I don't know Kerry. I do know that reporters who've covered him the longest don't seem to like him very much. Yesterday ABC's "The Note" -- in a fictitious memo from Jim Jordan to Kerry's new campaign manager, Mary Beth Cahill -- called the Globe's reporting on Kerry "the most relentlessly negative coverage of any presidential candidate EVER by a hometown paper." (Click here if "The Note" has been updated by the time you read this.)

That's a bit much, and the "Note"-sters may have been trying to reflect Jordan's views rather than make any sort of objective assessment. But there's no doubt the Globe has been rough on Kerry at times.

In the midst of all this cynicism and negativity, it would be interesting if it turned out Kerry's downfall was the result of his being too principled rather than too calculating.

The politics of Macs versus PCs. One would have thought it unnecessary to revisit that less-than-penetrating question at the Rock the Vote debate over which computers the candidates prefer.

But reader A.S.B. points me to this absolutely hilarious account of what really happened, written by the hapless questioner in a letter to the Brown Daily Herald.

The link was working last night, but it appears to be overloaded this morning. Read it if you can. If you can't, try this link to the NewsMax.com site. Essentially, the student was bullied into asking the question, and was told that if she didn't, she wouldn't get her 15 seconds of media glory.

Hilarious but also outrageous. Shame on CNN and Rock the Vote. The debate was stupid enough without their witless attempts to dumb it down even more.

posted at 9:11 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, November 10, 2003

Kill one for the Gipper. Before the beatification of Ronald Reagan is complete, we might want to step back and consider his administration's involvement (somehow, the phrase his involvement inevitably rings false) in one of the seamier episodes of the 1980s: US support for Guatemala's right-wing death squads.

According to this Tim Weiner piece in this morning's New York Times, the worst possible outcome has been avoided -- that is, former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, a butcher (and born-again Christian!) trained at the notorious School of the Americas, did not make the runoff.

James S. Henry has written an excellent overview of how the Reagan White House supported right-wing terrorism in Guatemala, which claimed nearly all of the 200,000 lives that were lost during that violent time. After crediting Jimmy Carter with substantially reducing assistance to the butchers of Guatemala, Henry writes:

But when Ronald Reagan took office in January 1981, the old public policy of mutual understanding and back-scratching returned. Indeed, Deputy White House Chief of Staff Michael Deaver's LA/DC- based PR firm, Deaver and Hannaford, was hired by the junta's cronies, a substantial amount of Guatemalan money reportedly found its way to the Reagan war chest, and sanctions against US arms purchases disappeared.

Thanks to Al Giordano's Big, Left, Outside weblog for pointing me to Henry.

Meanwhile, NPR yesterday ran one of the most bizarre stories you're ever likely to hear. Apparently a major issue in the Guatemalan election campaign is the demand for back pay by former members of the right-wing death squads.

You can listen to the report in Real Audio by clicking here.

Hypocritic oath. Let's get this straight. George W. Bush, just as he did in the 2000 campaign, has opted out of the public campaign-finance system.

Howard Dean knows he can't keep up with Bush unless he follows suit. So, according to John Kerry, Dean has gone over to the dark side.

Kerry on Dean: "I'm disappointed that Governor Dean has taken a very different road than Democrats have stood for as a matter of principle."

But Kerry knows he can't keep up with Dean unless he opts out of the public system. So that's exactly what he intends to do later this week. Kerry, though, wants us to know that his reformist credentials are intact.

Kerry on Kerry: "We're going to make our decision over the course of the next day or so. Now, whether I will or not, I'll make that decision. But I'm prepared to.... I've always said if any Democrat decides not to live by it, then I think, within the universe of Democrats, we have to make our decisions."

Whether you like what they're doing or not, the truth is that Dean and Kerry are doing precisely the same thing for precisely the same reason.

Here is Andrew Miga's Boston Herald account of Kerry's appearance on CBS's Face the Nation yesterday.

posted at 9:02 AM | comment or permalink


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

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