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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, January 02, 2004

60 Minutes versus the New York Times. There may be a problem with Sharon Waxman's report that CBS paid $1 million to Michael Jackson partly in return for his agreeing to be interviewed by Ed Bradley. Roger Friedman has the details at FoxNews.com.

Waxman's story was devastating. But 60 Minutes is - along with Nightline - the last great TV news institution, and I'm willing to give Don Hewitt and company the benefit of the doubt. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out, given the Times' own troubles over the past year.

New in this week's Phoenix. 2004 is likely to be a very good year for George W. Bush and Capitol Hill Republicans - and, thus, a very bad one for progressive aspirations.

Also, what if everything we know about mad-cow disease is wrong?

posted at 9:36 AM | link

Wednesday, December 31, 2003

"CBS News doesn't pay for interviews." No, but CBS's entertainment division does. And that distinction is behind a sickening media revelation.

Sharon Waxman reports in today's New York Times that Michael Jackson and/or his business managers talked CBS into paying him $1 million - on top of the $5 million he had already received - for an entertainment program that he's headlining this Friday and for his appearance on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

As Waxman describes it, the payment was handled just delicately enough for CBS News executives to have deniability - although that old Nixonian phrase "plausible deniability" is certainly not what comes to mind. Absolutely no one is going to buy this load of garbage.

Here's the killer, admittedly dependent on an unnamed source:

"Michael was in his room," the associate said. "Ed Bradley had set up. Basically Michael wanted to see the rest of the money. Bradley kept saying, 'Don't worry, we'll take care of it.' Michael said he wouldn't do the interview unless they paid. It came to a stalemate. But they didn't want to put anything in writing."

Bradley ended up walking away from the interview then, but he did it later.

The best quote is from Orville Schell, dean of the University of California at Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, who tells the Los Angeles Times' Tim Rutten:

[CBS] has gone from one humiliating event to another in recent years. But it's particularly demeaning to compromise your integrity so fundamentally over something as worthless as Michael Jackson. I suppose you could make a case for getting a story that laid bare the terrorist networks operating inside Iraq by paying for it. But to lose your reputation, as CBS now has done, to get more Michael Jackson? That's really sad.

As Schell notes, CBS News has been a pathetic joke for years. But 60 Minutes, while by no means perfect, has managed to maintain its basic integrity. Not now. It's gone.

And since there are zero indications that there will be any firings, resignations, or heartfelt promises not to do it again, then it's fairly safe to say that it's gone for good.

Nomar, Mr. Nice Guy. Gordon Edes has a fascinating inside look in today's Boston Globe at what went wrong with the Alex Rodriguez trade.

But there's another angle to this, too. Edes gives free rein to the Red Sox ownership to do damage control with Nomar Garciaparra, who almost certainly would have been traded if Rodriguez had come to town.

(Edes does not disclose that the Globe's corporate owner, the New York Times Company, is part of the Red Sox' ownership group. Since this is mainly a baseball story, I'm agnostic on whether he should have.)

What really stands out is that Sox principal owner John Henry really, really wants Garciaparra to know is that the only reason he considered this deal in the first place was that he was convinced his star shortstop didn't want to stay in Boston.

Here are some excerpts from an e-mail that Henry sent to Edes:

I am not sure of the exact date, but almost immediately after this meeting, I heard from [general manager] Theo [Epstein] that the gulf between [Garciaparra's agent] Arn Tellem's demand and the club's view of the right number for Nomar was so wide that he felt we were not going to be able to re-sign our shortstop....

I had a hard time imagining finally winning a World Series in Boston without Nomar being there at that great moment. Nevertheless, we faced the realities such as they were and determined to move forward.

Former Globe baseball reporter Peter Gammons, writing for ESPN.com, has a rather different take on the breakdown. According to Gammons, the principal bad guy in this was Sox president Larry Lucchino, who pissed off Rodriguez by grandstanding against the Players Association for nixing the proposed downward restructuring of Rodriguez's $252 million contract.

Lucchino doesn't come off all that well in Edes's telling, either. But the Edes version is that the man Lucchino really infuriated was Rodriguez's current employer, Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks.

The Edes version leaves the Sox with the best of both worlds: the possibility that the trade will still take place, along with indications that if it doesn't, Garciaparra could be signed to a new, long-term contract.

Two Dans, no waiting. Secret Agent Cathy is upset that I went after Dan Savage yesterday for suggesting that Americans deserve to die because the US propped up Saddam Hussein for many years.

posted at 9:00 AM | link

Tuesday, December 30, 2003

How the American Prospect saves money. Based on this, I'd say by recycling an old Bill Bradley drawing and claiming that it's Howard Dean. (For a closer view, click here.)

posted at 3:06 PM | link

Savage war. Dan Savage, the editor of Seattle's The Stranger and a noted sex columnist, caused a stir earlier this year when he came out in favor of the war in Iraq. He hasn't changed his mind, but this week he offers some regrets:

I regret that the president of the United States is a lying sack of shit. And I regret the first piece I wrote about Iraq. I was taken in by the Bushies' attempts to link Saddam and Osama, and conflate Baathism with Islamo-fascism, and the first piece I wrote is so credulous that I can't read it without cringing. I put too much stock in Condoleezza and her mushroom clouds, Colin and his mobile weapons labs, and Cheney and his alternate reality.

Savage hangs his hat on Christopher Hitchens's coat hook, arguing that the United States had a responsibility to remove Saddam Hussein's lunatic homicidal regime, especially since we had so much to do with propping him up over the years. It's an eminently respectable argument, even if I don't agree with it.

Unfortunately, Savage goes insane at the end. Here is his last paragraph:

Saddam Hussein was our man in Baghdad for years, our creation, our problem. And that it's costing American lives and money to remove Saddam Hussein from power is, in a sense, only right.

Money? Okay, fine. But lives? Is Savage serious? Is he really sitting up there in the Pacific Northwest, somehow satisfied or even pleased that American soldiers are making the moral equation even by doing us the favor of getting killed in a war that Savage himself doesn't have to fight? This is repulsive.

Remedial reading for Savage: today's New York Times front-pager on Army Sergeant Jeremy Feldbusch, who, while serving in Iraq, was hit by a piece of shrapnel that blinded him and damaged a part of his brain that controls emotions.

Savage may believe it's "only right" that Feldbusch's life has been ruined, and that Donald Rumsfeld's long-ago handshake with Saddam has thus been somehow negated. What Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman really shows us, though, is the true horror of war - and why it is a moral obscenity that the Bush White House lied about weapons of mass destruction.

Savage should stick to what he's good at. Like licking doorknobs.

The Dissector's year in review. Danny Schechter, the executive editor of Mediachannel.org, blogs some of the lowlights of 2003 here. And check out his new personal website, Dissectorville.

posted at 11:06 AM | link

Monday, December 29, 2003

Why technology won't kill spam. A remarkable thing happened when I downloaded my e-mail a few moments ago. Forty-six messages flooded into Microsoft Entourage. Three - all of them legitimate - stayed in my in box. The rest were transferred to a folder labeled "Spam" before I could even look at them.

I began paging through the spam folder and found the usual foolishness. Come-ons for Viagra substitutes. A get-rich-quick scheme from Nigeria. Pornography. And lest you think that's a fairly light load of garbage, be advised that this was only since 10 p.m. yesterday.

Yet I also found one message that shouldn't have been there. It was an e-mail I had sent out last night that for some reason bounced back. If I hadn't inspected my spam message-by-message, I never would have seen it. And that's why - despite an impressive error rate of just under 2.2 percent - I'm going to remove the spam-filtering software I've been playing with for the past week.

That's the problem with trying to eliminate spam. Losing one good message is worse than having to sort through scores of bad ones. The program I installed a little more than a week ago - SpamSieve - is highly rated, and it does seem to do an excellent job. But no program is perfect, as the SpamSieve manual itself acknowledges: it promises "to catch nearly every spam message yet produce very few false positives."

Well, if there are any false positives, or even the possibility of one, then I have to go through my spam folder with exactly the same attentiveness as I did with my inbox before I installed SpamSieve, don't I?

This isn't the software designer's fault, of course. (And, in fact, it would work a little better if I were more diligent: I keep getting warning messages that I've programmed SpamSieve to be oversensitive by showing it too many bad messages and not enough good ones.)

But the false-positive problem shows the limits of technology, and demonstrates further why computer users are dependent on Congress to deal with spam in an intelligent way. Will a new law called CAN-SPAM - whose implementation is described in today's Boston Globe by Chris Gaither - make a difference?

I hope so, but I'm skeptical. As this recent piece at Wired.com makes clear, CAN-SPAM may make so small a difference as to be nearly worthless.

One of the best overviews is this article by Christopher Caldwell that was published in the Weekly Standard last June. Since spammers depend on sending out millions upon millions of e-mails - a practice that now costs them virtually nothing - Caldwell proposed taxing e-mails - a very un-Standard-like approach, but one that might actually work. He wrote:

A penny-per-e-mail charge would drive most spammers out of business, subject them to jail time for tax evasion if they hid their operations, and cost the average three-letter-a-day Internet user just ten bucks a year. If even that seems too hard on the small user, then an exemption could be made for up to 5,000 e-mails per annum.

Sounds good to me. In the meantime, CAN-SPAM takes effect on New Year's Day. Perhaps when people see how ineffective it is, they'll demand something more toothsome. Caldwell's article would be a good place to start.

posted at 8:07 AM | link


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

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