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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.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

How stupid can you get? This past January, Charles Pierce wrote a profile of Ted Kennedy for the Boston Globe Magazine that included a passage so mean it took my breath away. It still does. Here it is:

That's how you survive what he's survived. That's how you move forward, one step after another, even though your name is Edward Moore Kennedy. You work, always, as though your name were Edward Moore. If she had lived, Mary Jo Kopechne would be 62 years old. Through his tireless work as a legislator, Edward Kennedy would have brought comfort to her in her old age.

Yet, as I wrote at the time, some people - especially conservatives - just didn't get it. James Taranto, who writes the "Best of the Web" column for the Wall Street Journal's OpinionJournal.com, correctly called it "pure poison." But others, including the stunningly overrated Mark Steyn, actually thought Pierce was absolving Kennedy for his criminally negligent conduct in the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

And so it goes. A little while ago I learned that the Media Research Center, an organization that documents so-called liberal bias, had awarded Pierce its "Quote of the Year." First place! No explanation is offered, but, for connoisseurs of the MRC, none is needed. Obviously Pierce is being singled out for an extreme act of liberal woolly-headedness - for daring to suggest something so stupid and offensive as the notion that Kennedy's liberal deeds somehow offset what he failed to do that day at Chappaquiddick.

Gah! As if!

The MRC no doubt got that idea from idiot boy Bernard Goldberg's new book, Arrogance: Rescuing America from the Media Elite. I haven't seen it (lest you think that means I'm not entitled to insult him, be assured I've read his first comic book); but Pierce recently wrote during a guest turn on Altercation (no direct link available) that Goldberg, too, thought Pierce was trying to say something nice about Ted Kennedy.

Good grief. Conservatives love to complain about the state of public education. Yet, clearly, it is they who can't read.

New in this week's Phoenix. George W. Bush has a new running mate: Saddam Hussein. And that's going to cause a whole heap of trouble for the Democrats.

(Note to Bernie Goldberg and the Media Research Center: I'm not actually trying to make people think that Saddam is going to replace Dick Cheney on the Republican ticket, or that Bush secretly likes Saddam, or anything like that. Okay?)

Also, who was Robert Bartley?

posted at 3:45 PM | comment or permalink

The judge sure is funky. Federal appeals-court judge Richard Posner has a problem. It is the same problem experienced by such great minds as the Reverend Pat Robertson and Nixon-era born-again Chuck Colson: he cannot conceive of two men or two women having sex with each other without animals somehow being involved.

To be fair, Posner's concern is also shared by US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who really does possess a first-class legal mind, even though the other parts of Scalia's brain are apparently still mired somewhere in the eighth grade.

But Posner, though a conservative, has never previously revealed himself to be a raving nutcase. So I was stunned to read his barnyard epithets in the latest issue of the New Republic.

Posner - who is himself a major-league cat fancier - reviews (sub. req.) a pro-gay-marriage book called Same-Sex Marriage and the Constitution, by Evan Gerstmann. Whether deliberately or not, he ends up telling us far more about himself than he does about Gerstmann's book.

To wit:

And I have not even tasked him with explaining what the state's compelling interest is in forbidding a man to marry his beloved dachshund.


But I suspect that more object for the same reason they would object to incestuous or polygamous marriages, or allowing people to marry their pets or their SUVs - that it would impair the sanctity, degrade the institution, of marriage (their marriage) to associate marriage with homosexuality.

Posner also appears to accept Scalia's dissenting argument in Lawrence v. Texas that, by overturning state anti-sodomy laws, "the majority had written finis to any law based on moral disapproval with no accompanying proof of tangible harm, such as laws forbidding sex with animals." (I'm quoting Posner, not Scalia.)

What is going on here? Earlier this year I quoted 12 years' worth of bizarre outbursts equating homosexuality with bestiality. Now a respected federal judge writing for a liberal, pro-gay-rights magazine is getting into the act.

Are the critters really that much at risk?

And by the way, for a magazine that has generally been supportive of same-sex marriage, TNR's cover package this week is heavily tilted the other way. Jeffrey Rosen is against it, and purports to show flaws in the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's reasoning in the Goodridge decision. Cass Sunstein is for it, but only because he thinks it's a good idea that states such as Massachusetts experiment with it before trying to impose it at the federal level.

I actually found myself pining for Andrew Sullivan.

posted at 8:40 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Why red and blue doesn't work. The problem with dividing the country into blue states and red states, argues Robert David Sullivan, is that more than 40 percent of voters in the red states voted for Al Gore four years ago and more than 40 percent of voters in the blue states voted for George W. Bush.

In other words, not only is the country divided right down the middle; so are the states themselves.

Sullivan - an associate editor at CommonWealth magazine and a former Boston Phoenix editor - has attempted to figure out what's really going on by dividing the country into 10 regions whose voting patterns have been similar since the 1970s. The result - "Beyond Red and Blue" - is a model of detailed analysis, based on county-by-county election results and various demographic measurements such as ethnicity, education, and income.

Many states are split under Sullivan's model, but not Massachusetts. We - along with much of the rest of New England, parts of New York, and the West Coast from San Francisco to the Canadian border - are part of the Upper Coasts, whose politics are both liberal and quirky. In 2000, for instance, the Upper Coasts were Gore's second-strongest of the 10 regions, but also Ralph Nader's strongest.

New Hampshire and Maine, oddly enough, are split between the Upper Coasts and the Sagebrush region. There's a lot more snow than sagebrush in northern New England, but Sullivan groups them with the West for their libertarianism. The Sagebrush counties are anti-regulation and not at all taken with the religious-conservative base of the Republican Party - which explains why they were only Bush's third-strongest region in 2000, behind Southern Comfort (the deepest of the Deep South) and Appalachia (a band stretching from central Pennsylvania through northern Alabama and Mississippi).

Among Sullivan's most interesting findings is that though the Bush-Gore race was extremely close, fewer regions were up for grabs than was the case in 1976, when Jimmy Carter beat Gerald Ford. Voters have become more set in their ways, and despite the decline of formal party politics, many people are actually more likely to cast a straight party ballot than they were a generation ago.

As for why the 2000 election was so close, Sullivan notes that Gore and Bush each won five of the 10 regions. If either Bush or his Democratic challenger can capture six regions in 2004, he will just about be assured of victory. Sullivan shows exactly how the campaigns ought to go about doing just that. (Don't let Karl Rove see this.)

"Beyond Red and Blue" has already attracted the attention of the Daily Kos. Check out this wonderfully obscure take by DHinMI.

Sullivan's map is a political junkie's dream. And it will change the way you think about presidential politics.

posted at 4:25 PM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Adam Nagourney responds. New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney, who yesterday exposed Stephanie Cutter of the John Kerry campaign as the author of an anti-Dean e-mail despite Cutter's demand that the contents of her message be reported as "background," has responded to Media Log's item on the flap.

Nagourney writes:

The Kerry people e-mailed me a copy of your item about my story.

Feel free to call or e-mail any time. I would have told you what I told Stephanie: I'm more than happy to let a campaign aide go off the record, or on background. But it's a two-way street: we've got to negotiate the rules in advance. This is pretty basic: I do this a dozen times a day with campaign officials.

But in my book, you can't fire off an e-mail and demand preemptively that it be taken on background and attributed to a "dem campaign," which is what Stephanie did. That is particularly true in a case where one campaign is ATTACKING the other. If other reporters want to agree to that, fine. But I don't think it's fair, and I'm not going to agree to those terms.

What made this case particularly striking was that this was an e-mail sent out to a BUNCH of reporters. And Stephanie was asking us to provide the Kerry campaign cover while she attacked the Dean campaign for the same thing that many of her colleagues were attacking Dean for on record. That doesn't strike me as right.

A couple of observations:

1. The scenario Nagourney describes is something I identified yesterday as one of the possible explanations. His e-mail to me confirms it, and I think he was justified in not going along with Cutter's request.

2. Readers increasingly are demanding transparency. I would have liked to see him stick in a sentence yesterday explaining this to everyone rather than leaving the average Times subscriber scratching her head.

Little People: the Salon interview. Salon has posted a long Q&A (sub. req.) with me on my book, Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes. The interviewer is Lisa Hedley, a documentarian and the mother of a girl with dwarfism.

posted at 8:19 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, December 15, 2003

How Murdoch, GE, and Microsoft stood up to Big Media. Really! Glenn "InstaPundit" Reynolds makes a heartwarming observation about how the little guys are making big corporate media look foolish.

Except it seems to escape him that in this case the little guys are Rupert Murdoch, owner of the Weekly Standard, and General Electric and Microsoft, co-owners of MSNBC.com, where Reynolds is, you know, fighting the power.

posted at 9:55 PM | comment or permalink

There's so much echo I'm getting feedback. Al Giordano, whom I quote in my current Boston Phoenix piece on plans to start a liberal radio network, has responded on his weblog, Big, Left, Outside. How could I resist completing the circle?

Al disagrees with my analysis, which is that the network is going to have to get at least some of National Public Radio's 22 million weekly listeners to tune in. He writes:

Do the young folks who hang out at the Daily Kos, or the Democratic Underground, or the hundred-plus local Indymedia sites turn to NPR on the dial? I doubt that they do in great numbers: It's almost never cited as a credible news source at those places. What about the 400,000 members of Howard Dean's "MeetUp" groups, and all the others in the ones for Kucinich, Clark, Kerry and the others? And the people they talk to who don't attend meetings but who are radio listeners. Most of my readers don't consider NPR a credible, or interesting, source. All the progressive juice from the youth that is making this current presidential election more interesting every day comes from a demographic very distinct from the NPR crowd.

Does the all-important base of the progressive majority to come - young blacks and Latinos &endash; listen to NPR? Are you kidding? Most of them feel as I do: NPR is a bad, white, joke.

To which I say: fine, but if Central Air, as the new network is called, is going to succeed, it's going to have to put up some big numbers. Central Air claims to be on the verge of acquiring radio stations in five major markets, including Boston. That could cost somewhere between $100 million and $150 million. They're not going to pay off the note just by bringing in folks who hang out at Indymedia websites.

For the record, I'm an NPR listener who'd gladly give Central Air 20 minutes a day, as long as it doesn't suck.

But if Al and I disagree, it really doesn't matter, because Central Air seems to be on the right track. Rather than bringing in a liberal blowhard to counter Rush Limbaugh, the network is aiming for fast and funny (without necessarily giving up substance), bringing in people like the great ex-Boston humorist Barry Crimmins and, though the final details haven't been worked out, Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo.

They ought to consider putting Giordano on the air, too.

posted at 4:55 PM | comment or permalink

"... for some reason you expected him to bite that soldier's finger a la Hanibal Lecter." The celebrated Baghdad blogger Salam Pax on the arrest and upcoming trial of Saddam Hussein:

Why do all the interesting things happen when I am not in baghdad?

at first I couldn't believe it when I heard it, I got too excited when they reported that the vice president Izat Ibrahim was arrested and then it turned out to be nothing, so my reaction was "yeah right". but the images on TV left no chance to doubt. He looked like a tramp getting a physical and for some reason you expected him to bite that soldier's finger a la Hanibal Lecter. But he just sat there. There was another moment when the GC members were describing their meeting with Saddam and told the journalists about the deriding remarks he made when they asked him about the Sadir's assasination and the mass graves, he sounded like he has totally lost it.

I want a fully functioning Saddam who will sit on a chair in front of a TV camera for 10 hours everyday and tells us what exactly happened the last 30 years. I do not care about the fair trial thing Amnesty Int. is worried about and I don'r really care much about the fact that the Iraqi judges might not be fullt qualified, we all know he should rot in hell. but what I do care about is that he gets a public trial because I want to hear all the untold stories.

UPDATE: MediaChannel.org's Danny Schechter points to this commentary by Salam Pax in the Guardian.

posted at 9:59 AM | comment or permalink

Adam Nagourney screws Kerry campaign. But why? This is the sidebar to the sidebar to the sidebar. Adam Nagourney reports in the New York Times today on how the capture of Saddam Hussein might affect the Democratic presidential campaign. Toward the end appear two highly unusual paragraphs:

The strains this created were evident on Sunday. Mr. Kerry's press secretary, Stephanie Cutter, sent an e-mail message to news organizations listing remarks Dr. Dean had made over the past six months that she said demonstrated that his opposition to the war was "politically driven."

But Ms. Cutter, reflecting the concern among the campaigns that they not be viewed as turning a foreign policy victory to political advantage, put a note on the top of the statement demanding that it be reported as "background" and attributed only to a Democratic campaign.

On the face of it, this seems like Nagourney committed a gross breach of protocol. As best as I can tell, neither the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, nor the Washington Post exposed the Kerry campaign's role in putting out the poison e-mail. (Nor did any of them actually use it.) A search of Google News shows that apparently no one else did, either.

Did Nagourney have a justifiable excuse to out Stephanie Cutter? Should she have known better than to send out an e-mail demanding background treatment in advance, rather than receiving assurances before she sent out the e-mail?

Or did Nagourney just decide to screw the Kerry campaign?

This demands further explanation. I suggest that the Times' new public editor, Daniel Okrent, address it in his first real column this coming Sunday.

UPDATE: Nagourney has responded to this item.

The trial of the century. No, not Michael Jackson's - Saddam Hussein's! In today's Boston Globe, Vivienne Walt and Charlie Savage have a good overview of what is likely to be "the biggest human-rights case since Nuremberg."

Along the same lines, the New York Times' William Safire may be the only pundit so far to depart from the conventional wisdom - the C.W. being that Saddam showed cowardice by surrendering without firing a shot. Safire writes:

I think Saddam is still Saddam - a meretricious, malevolent megalomaniac. He knows he is going to die, either by death sentence or in jail at the hands of a rape victim's family. Why did he not use his pistol to shoot it out with his captors or to kill himself? Because he is looking forward to the mother of all genocide trials, rivaling Nuremberg's and topping those of Eichmann and Milosevic. There, in the global spotlight, he can pose as the great Arab hero saving Islam from the Bushes and the Jews.

Besides, those who are surprised that Saddam didn't come out shooting obviously didn't see NBC's Today show this morning.

In a surreal bit of play-acting, Matt Lauer had Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona (I think that was his name; I couldn't read it with a "7 News Stormforce" logo taking up the bottom quarter of the screen) lead him through a plywood model of the "spider hole" that had been whipped together overnight.

Surrounded by Christmas decorations, Francona crawled in and showed how difficult it would have been for Saddam - prone and looking up the barrels of a few M-16s - even to pull his pistol.

posted at 9:53 AM | comment or permalink

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Saddam captured. Wow. This is the big one. We didn't even have the radio on this morning, so I didn't know until about 10 minutes ago that Saddam Hussein had been taken into custody by US forces.

This is incredibly good news, and it gives the US a second chance at this entire misbegotten war and occupation. The early reports are that thousands of Iraqis are celebrating the capture of this evil bastard.

It may not end the insurgency, but it should certainly help lift the fears of those who've worried that Saddam might be coming back. Even though we never should have gone in there, now that we're there we've got an obligation to get it right.

Too bad Saddam's going to be executed - from the photos, it looks like he could have starred in Bad Santa II.

Worse than Porter, Geoghan, and Shanley? It's going to get overlooked amid Saddam Mania, but Kevin Cullen has a long piece in today's Boston Globe on a priest who may actually have murdered one of his young sex-abuse victims.

Cullen's story about Danny Croteau, who died at the age of 13, is a gripping, horrifying read. And Cullen's reporting on the only suspect - Father Richard Lavigne - is even more horrifying.

What's most striking is that, nearly two years after the Globe began its Pulitzer-winning coverage of pedophile priests, there are still stories of this magnitude waiting to be told.

posted at 10:30 AM | comment or permalink


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

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