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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 21, 2003

What did Mitt mean? We've got answers! On Thursday, Media Log asked what Governor Mitt Romney means when he says that same-sex marriage contradicts "3000 years of recorded history." What paradigm-shattering event took place around 1000 BC?

The Media Log challenge attracted an avalanche of e-mails. (Okay, five.) And I believe we have the answer. But I'm saving that for the end.

First, we hear from J.B., who writes: "It was the last time the Cubs and Red Sox were in the World Series?" J.B., show some confidence. Lose the question mark! Indeed, I thought maybe he was on to something. But it turns out that World Series archeological records only go back to 500 BC, so scientists can't say for sure. Still, this remains a real possibility.

On a more serious note, J.R. sends this along:

What don't you understand? The human species started writing things down on parchment or stone approximately 3000 years ago. Those are the earliest writings we have. We have no way of knowing what happened before that. Why are you assuming something happened in 1000 BC to change our thoughts on marriage? What the hell does that have to do with starting to write things down? Your question is ludicrous! What are you ... 12?

To paraphrase Our Only President, we will reveal our age at a time and place of our choosing. As for the substance of J.R.'s e-mail, he is only off by a few thousand years -- recorded history goes back to 3000-4000 BC. For more, check this out, from something called the Evolution Encyclopedia.

It's safe to say that if J.B. suffers from a self-confidence deficit, J.R. has a surplus. Perhaps they should get together and trade.

Next up is M.P., who, judging from his e-mail address, is a Harvard boy. Well, even Harvard types can get it right occasionally, and it looks like he may have hit the nail on the head. He writes:

is this a serious question you're asking? because the answer seems obvious to me: the reference is to the bible. what else in ancient history (and certainly 3000 years ago, before classical greece and rome) are people such as romney even aware of? the '3000' is merely his rough estimate as to when the text was written or when it purports to have occurred. of course, anyone familiar with the ancient near east, for instance (this is my field) would know that we have abundant records for marriages which stretch back much earlier. [Media Log aside: Read it and weep, J.R.!]

of course, it's also true that for the same '3000 years of recorded history' (at least in the bible and subsequent judeo-christian tradition) homosexuality has been considered a sin -- so romney's position on 'the necessary civil rights and certain appropriate benefits' is itself a 'contradiction' of that history. so much for THAT tortured logic.

In a similar vein, A.W. sends this along:

My guess is that Gov. Romney is referring to Biblical assertions regarding the age of the earth, although I believe they usually declare the world is 6,000 years old, rather than three thousand.

Whenever I read or hear remarks from people who oppose gay marriage on how it will destroy our society, I'm always reminded of the movie "Ghostbusters".  The Mayor of New York asks the Ghostbusters what they mean by a disaster of Biblical proportions, and they begin reeling off the various disasters -- fire and brimstone, forty years of darkness, the dead rising from the grave. At which point Bill Murray declares in his most sarcastic Bill Murray voice, "Dogs and cats, living together!"

Finally, K.S. offers this:

I actually heard another anti-same-sex-marriage commentator on CNN Tuesday say that the ruling flew in the face of 5,000 years of marriage. It seems arbitrary figures are being thrown around in an attempt to say, "It's always been this way" in a more concrete fashion, and other people are being far too lazy by just repeating the assertions. The bad journalism of our times.

Bad journalism, but maybe bad political rhetoric, too. In other words, maybe Romney talks about "3000 years of recorded history" because it sounds good, and because he and everyone is too lazy to think it through.

Thanksgiving hiatus. Media Log will be on a holiday schedule until Monday, December 1. I might post a couple of things, I might not. In any case, see you then.

posted at 11:41 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, November 20, 2003

So, Mitt, what was it that happened in 1000 BC anyway? It seems that every time Governor Mitt Romney opens his mouth to denounce same-sex marriage, he makes the same observation: that the Supreme Judicial Court's ruling goes against 3000 years of tradition.

For instance, here is what he said on the Today show on Wednesday morning, according to this morning's Boston Globe:

I agree with 3000 years of recorded human history, which frankly is a contradiction of what the majority of the Supreme Judicial Court said. Of course, at the same time, we should [be] providing the necessary civil rights and certain appropriate benefits.

What does this mean? What great event happened in 1000 BC that allows Romney to refer to "3000 years of recorded history"? He hasn't said. Yet not only is no one questioning him, others are agreeing.

Globe columnist Adrian Walker, who supports same-sex marriage, writes today, "Governor Mitt Romney, who wasted no time stating his opposition to the ruling, thundered that his position has 3,000 years of history behind it. That's true ..."

It is? Says who? What facts can anyone point to showing that marriage as we know it did not exist in, say, 1200 BC, but was a thriving institution by 800 BC? What is Romney talking about?

If anyone knows, pass along your thoughts to Media Log at dkennedy[a]phx.com.

In other news on the same-sex-marriage front:

-- There's no sense debating Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby on the merits of gay marriage. He's against it, and he's not going to change his mind. Today, though, he makes an unsupportable assertion: that the way was paved by earlier steps such as the Equal Rights Amendment (passed in Massachusetts, though never made part of the US Constitution) and the state's gay-rights law. Thus, he argues, the Goodridge decision will inevitably lead to constitutional protections for, say, three-partner marriage, or for incest.

That is, on its face, ridiculous. The SJC did not base its legal reasoning in any way on those earlier actions. What led to this week's landmark decision was not a "slippery slope," as Jacoby contends, but, rather, a radical change in cultural mores -- a change for the good.

I suppose it is possible that, one day, those mores will change again to embrace polygamy, brother-sister marriage, whatever. (I hope not.) But if it happens, Goodridge will have absolutely nothing to do with that.

-- Supporters of same-sex marriage face a terrible dilemma. Marriage is now their constitutional right, and they have every reason to insist on it, and not to let the legislature and the governor to water it down with a civil-unions law, as seems likely (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here).

Yet, if civil unions were to become law and the SJC were to rule that they were close enough, that would forestall the very strong possibility that the voters will pass a constitutional amendment in 2006 that would ban same-sex marriages, civil unions, even basic domestic-partnership rights.

Principle matters, which is why I hope the gay and lesbian community holds out for nothing short of full marriage. But I worry about the consequences.

Here is an analysis of what may or may not happen on Beacon Hill by the Phoenix's Kristen Lombardi and Susan Ryan-Vollmar.

-- Editorial round-up: the New York Times gives same-sex marriage a thumbs-up; the Washington Post is sympathetic but muddled; the Wall Street Journal is against it (sub. req., but here's the lowlight: "It is four liberal judges on the Massachusetts Supreme Court who, egged on by well-connected and politically powerful gay rights activists, have imposed their own moral values on the rest of its citizens."); the Los Angeles Times is for it, but worried about a backlash; and USA Today, weighing in yesterday, is dubious, and also worried about a backlash.

Yesterday, the Globe said yes and the Herald said no, although it appears sympathetic to civil unions.

New in this week's Phoenix. A new book on Howard Dean is the result of an unusual collaboration between two of Vermont's most respected independent media institutions.

Also, speculation over what's next at the newly downsized Boston Herald.

posted at 9:20 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Saddam and Osama, sitting in a tree. Q: What would be the one thing -- other than nuclear weapons -- that would have justified the war in Iraq?

A: Real evidence of ties between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, especially if those ties extended to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

That's why the hot insider story in the Washington media right now is a Weekly Standard cover story by Stephen Hayes, accompanied by the hyperbolic headline "Case Closed," reporting the existence of a classified memo that concludes such ties really did exist. The memo even revives those stories about 9/11 bomber Mohamed Atta's supposed meeting(s) with a top Iraqi intelligence official in Prague.

So why is this an insider story instead of leading the nightly news? There are various theories. Slate's Jack Shafer thinks it's because the liberal media can't wrap their minds around something that so contradicts their preconceived notions. Josh Marshall argues -- on his weblog and in his column in the Hill -- that it's because Hayes is recycling long-discredited crapola.

And the plot thickens. The Defense Department has attempted to discredit Hayes's scoop, leading Hayes to respond on the Standard's website.

So who's right? Who knows? But logic suggests there may be a lot less to the memo than meets the eye.

The author of the leaked memo was Defense Department official Douglas Feith, currently under considerable fire for his previous efforts at exaggerating the threat posed by Iraq. Feith, in other words, is a man with a track record, and it's not a good one.

More important, even allowing for the fact that the White House has to protect certain intelligence assets, can we agree that the Bush administration would be moving heaven and earth to get this information out there if it had any confidence in it? After all, the Bushies are getting pounded day after day for phonying up the case for war. Presenting convincing evidence that Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11 would shut up a lot of people -- just about everyone, in fact.

Instead, the last time the Dark Lord, Dick Cheney, made such an assertion, George W. Bush felt compelled to take it back.

No, not every loose end has been wrapped up. Edward Jay Epstein, writing in Slate, asserts that evidence of the Atta meeting in Prague has never been adequately addressed.

Still, it's reasonable to expect that the White House is capable of making its own best case. That it has not only failed to embrace the Feith memo, but has actually distanced itself from it, suggests that this is all little ado about very little.

The Phoenix takes on same-sex marriage. Tomorrow's Phoenix will include an extensive package on the Supreme Judicial Court's decision to allow same-sex couples to marry. It's online now.

My piece argues that the Democrats ought to get off the defensive and claim same-sex marriage as their very own wedge issue.

Plug, plug. The website Written Voices has an interview with me about Little People. It's in Windows Media format.

Also, the new Online Journalism Review has a roundtable interview with bloggers and media critics, including yours truly. Unfortunately, they mixed up my photo with Bill Powers's.

posted at 4:16 PM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A big day in the same-sex marriage wars. The Associated Press reports that the state's Supreme Judicial Court will rule at 10 a.m. in the Goodrich same-sex marriage case.

Also known as an "outside agitator." Not that I mind, but somehow I doubt that the Boston Globe would refer to Ron Crews as a "transplant" in a headline if he had come north from Georgia to fight in favor of same-sex marriage rather than against.

The headline accompanies this profile by Yvonne Abraham, who portrays the former Georgia legislator as a modernist hatemonger -- that is, he hates lesbians and gay men, but apparently not African-Americans, since he got in trouble with his constituents down South when he voted against the Confederate flag.

You might also want to check out the website of the transplant's organization, the Massachusetts Family Institute.

posted at 8:42 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, November 17, 2003

Correction. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell disputes an assertion I made last Friday, a day on which he announced the elimination of 19 jobs, that "it remains to be seen whether Purcell can now right the ship and return his struggling paper to profitability."

"I have a bone to pick with you. We are profitable," Purcell told me this morning, adding that the Herald was profitable even before Friday's cuts.

Purcell declined to discuss the numbers regarding his privately held Herald Media company.

posted at 11:53 AM | comment or permalink

Toward a new kind of talk radio. Former Narco News Bulletin publisher Al Giordano has an idiosyncratic take on efforts to launch a liberal and/or leftist talk-radio presence. His "Talk Radio Manifesto" is posted at the website Salón Chingón.

No comment today on the details of Giordano's manifesto; that will have to wait until I've digested it a little more thoroughly. But I do have a couple of general comments.

First, I would love to see a left-of-center talk show succeed, and if someone like Al Franken or Michael Moore (or Giordano) were to host such a show, I'd certainly give it a half-hour of my time while driving home. But I'm skeptical.

Like it or not, liberals (as opposed to genuine lefties) already have their own radio network -- National Public Radio. ("Gag me," writes Giordano.) The two drive-time shows, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, have about 15 million to 20 million listeners -- about the same as or a little more than Rush Limbaugh, the noted drug addict who brings his special brand of hypocrisy back to the airwaves today.

No, NPR's offerings are not particularly liberal in content, but I would argue that's not what most liberals are looking for. Rather, NPR's mix of news, commentary, and cultural stories, delivered in that laid-back monotone, appeals to liberal sensibilities (including mine). In other words, the reason that there's never been a liberal Rush is that, if there were, he would fall face-first into his stash of OxyContin.

It's not that liberals aren't looking to have their politics reinforced. Certainly the success of MoveOn.org and Howard Dean's website show that. But, mostly, I suspect that talk radio appeals inherently to conservatives and libertarians more than it does to liberals and leftists.

But I hope Giordano -- a former Phoenix political reporter and former talk-show host himself -- can point the way to a new reality.

And here I always thought that stupidity causes racism. The Boston Globe's Gareth Cook reports that it may be just the opposite.

posted at 8:50 AM | comment or permalink


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

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