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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 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, March 19, 2004

EYE WITNESS NEWS. So I'm reading bits and pieces of USA Today's account of former reporter Jack Kelley's literally incredible fabrications. It took me a while, but finally I got it: what the paper describes as "[p]erhaps the most riveting story Jack Kelley wrote" was also something that his editors had doubts about all along.

The story involved a suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem on August 9, 2001. The deconstruction that USA Today publishes today is worth reading in full. But check out this paragraph:

Kelley could not have seen three men decapitated. He wrote in his story: "Three men, who had been eating pizza inside, were catapulted out of the chairs they had been sitting on. When they hit the ground, their heads separated from their bodies and rolled down the street." In a first draft that Kelley submitted for publication, he wrote that some of the heads rolled "with their eyes still blinking."

This is an astounding detail. No editor in his or her right mind would take it out. Except, possibly, for one reason: a suspicion that it wasn't true, that Kelley hadn't actually witnessed such a horrifying event. So what did the editors do? They removed the most compelling - and most obviously fabricated - detail, and left the rest of the story pretty much alone.

USA Today deserves credit for coming clean about Kelley. But there remains much that hasn't yet been reported about the culture that allowed him to thrive.

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THE "H" WORD. Cynthia Cotts's new Village Voice column has some good dirt on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. (Motto: Speaking Pablum to Power!) Apparently Lehrer got very upset when a guest said something naughty about Halliburton. Read Cotts's column here.

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting has some choice words for Lehrer's suck-up performance as well.

And here's some unsolicited advice for John Kerry: do not, under any circumstances, let Lehrer moderate this year's presidential debates. As Jack Beatty explains, Lehrer's unthinking even-handedness helped put George W. Bush in the White House four years ago.

UNFREE PRESS. A major press-freedom case is under way in Providence, where Jim Taricani, an investigative reporter for Channel 10, has been ordered to pay a $1000-a-day fine for refusing to say who gave him an undercover videotape from the investigation of former mayor Buddy Cianci, who's now serving time.

According to today's Providence Journal (reg. req.), the feds are seeking to have the fines kick in immediately, before Taricani has even exhausted all of his appeals.

This isn't exactly a First Amendment case; reporters have no more right to protect the identities of those they do business with than an ordinary citizen does. Nevertheless, this amounts to federal harassment of a reporter who was doing his job.

FLEET OF MOUTH. Look, I don't want the Democratic National Convention to be held at the FleetCenter. Neither do you. The South Boston convention center makes all kind of sense. But it's March, and it's not going to happen. Which is why this item on the Romney Is a Fraud weblog is so dead-on.

The convention has been in the works for years now. It is cynical and ridiculous for Governor Mitt Romney to jump on the South Boston bandwagon now.

The Boston Herald's Cosmo Macero (sub. req.), who first floated this idea in December, hasn't quite given up on it yet - although even he admits, "It may in fact be too late, and too costly, to do anything now but hope for the best at the Fleet."

For Romney, though, it's not too late to score some cheap points by getting behind a plan that doesn't exist.

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Thursday, March 18, 2004

ODDS AND ENDS. I've fixed the link to the ad of Donald Rumsfeld getting an education about his past statements courtesy of Tom Friedman and Bob Schieffer. Also, tonight at 7 I'll be talking with Barry Nolan of CN8's Nitebeat on so-called liberal bias.

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MARRIED WITH CONFLICTS. Should a newspaper allow a married same-sex couple to keep covering the gay-marriage debate? It's a hard question, but Media Log's view is that it depends on the circumstances of the couple's marriage.

The San Francisco Chronicle decided earlier this week that reporter Rachel Gordon and photographer Liz Mangelsdorf could no longer cover the issue after they got married at City Hall. Here is editor Phil Bronstein's memo to the staff (via Romenesko).

This is a very, very tough call, but I think Bronstein was right. The San Francisco marriages weren't just marriages (though they were surely that); they were also acts of civil disobedience by the mayor, Gavin Newsom. Newsom did a fine thing by challenging state officials to recognize gay and lesbian couples as being equal in the eyes of the law and the state constitution. But for journalists to get married under such circumstances and then continue to cover the story would be the equivalent of carrying signs and shouting slogans at a demonstration that they had been assigned to report on.

Here's the difference. If Gordon and Mangelsdorf had waited and flown to Boston on May 18 to get married, then no one would have had a right to complain. They would have been legally married in accordance with the state Supreme Judicial Court's Goodridge decision, and there would have been no political overtones to their exchanging vows.

But that's not what they did. They took part in a political act, and now they should sit it out, at least in terms of offering straight news coverage. (No harm in offering something more personal, with the appropriate disclosure.) covers the story here.

DONALD RUMSFELD, LYING LIAR. And in this ad by, his pants are on fire. (Thanks to Michael Goldman.)

QUOTE OF THE DAY. "It is absolutely ridiculous and unfair and a stretch. Tell them to come to me and ask me about it and look me in the eye. I'll straighten them out in good force - the yellow, rotten, dirty [expletives] that they are. I commend Tim Cahill for looking beyond the political and not falling for the [expletive] disgrace of caving in and punishing a kid who deserves something." - State Auditor Joe DeNucci, in today's Boston Herald, which reports that State Treasurer Tim Cahill has promoted his son-in-law.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Former Bush speechwriter David Frum comes thisclose to saying that John Kerry is Osama bin Laden's candidate for president.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

DEMS STAY PUT. With the logistical nightmare posed by holding the Democratic National Convention at the FleetCenter becoming more and more apparent, Governor Mitt Romney has lent his voice to those saying that the gathering should be moving to the new convention center in South Boston. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

Given that it's almost certainly too late to make such a dramatic shift, it's worth reminding everyone that the idea was publicly floated for the first time last December 19, in Cosmo Macero's Herald column.

Macero's money graf:

"If we got the call from the mayor or the committee ... I believe we could do it," says Jim Rooney, chief executive of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority and Menino's one-time chief of staff. "It would look different. But it could and would be made to look like a good media event, which is by and large what conventions are."

The traffic and security concerns would be so much more easily solved at the desolate South Boston location than at the FleetCenter, which is the hub of the Greater Boston's public-transportation network as well as the nexus of the city's highway system.

But, of course, the move isn't going to happen. All we can do is hope for the best.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

WHAT KERRY SAID. You've got to feel sorry this morning for Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healy. It was his transcription of a March 8 speech by John Kerry at a fundraising event that led to a week of controversy over the senator's alleged assertion that "foreign leaders" had told him they hoped he would beat George W. Bush. Healy was the pool reporter, which means that the entire media relied on his transcript. And now it turns out that mistakes were made.

It was an easy mistake to make, and I'm sure Healy is unhappy about it - make that very unhappy. The larger question is whether the corrected transcript changes the meaning of what Kerry said. I don't think it does. But unfortunately, and characteristically, the Kerry campaign is using the error to back away from this mini-controversy.

Here's an excerpt from a Glen Johnson piece in today's Globe:

A Globe reporter was present for the fund-raiser as a representative of the newspapers covering the campaign. The reporter initially sent out a report to his colleagues saying that Kerry had told the crowd, "I've met foreign leaders who can't go out and say this publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, 'You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy' - things like that."

Yesterday the reporter listened again to the tape, previously transcribed on a bus and campaign airplane, and said Kerry actually said: "I've been hearing it, I'll tell ya. The news, the coverage in other countries, the news in other places. I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly but, boy, they look at you and say, 'You gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy, we need a new policy' - things like that."

Kerry never used the term "foreign" or, as some accounts have reported, said he had "met with" foreign leaders. His comments were preceded by a statement from Milton Ferrell, Kerry's Florida fund-raising chairman, voicing foreign displeasure with the current president. Ferrell said, "Europeans and elsewhere, they're counting on the American people. They hate Bush, but they know we're going to get rid of him."

Based on that context, I'd say that Healy got Kerry's meaning right, even if he didn't capture his exact words. But the Los Angeles Times reports today that the Kerry campaign is now trying to back away from the controversy. Matea Gold writes:

[T]he campaign said Monday that the Globe's clarification demonstrates some ambiguity about what Kerry meant. His reference to "more leaders," said Kerry's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter, "could mean anybody." The media's repeated references to "foreign leaders" allowed critics to suggest he was talking about heads of state. "He was misquoted," said Cutter. "Had he not been misquoted, this wouldn't be a story."

Really? Kerry has been pounded at over this miniature issue. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, who doesn't normally get involved in partisan politics, challenged Kerry to name the foreign leaders he'd supposedly met with who support his candidacy. Yet Kerry did not really contest the accuracy of Healy's transcript, at least not until Sunday - and then, according to this account in the New York Times, he challenged something that Healy actually got right:

Mr. Kerry said on Sunday that he had used the word "heard," not "met," prompting Mr. Healy to revisit the recording. On Monday, he sent out a corrected transcript, clarifying that the quotation actually began, "I've met more leaders who can't go out and say it all publicly."

Here's what White House spokeswoman Suzy DeFrancis told the LA Times:

The White House, when asked about the Globe reporter's clarification of the original remarks, said Kerry should have denounced the reported comments earlier if he had been misquoted.

"It seems to us that Sen. Kerry has affirmed the quote by his own reaction to it," said Suzy DeFrancis, a White House spokeswoman." He's had plenty of time to disavow it if he didn't agree with it … so I think he was clearly probably describing foreign leaders."

I can't disagree.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. "Al Sharpton yesterday conceded the Democratic presidential nomination to John F. Kerry ... He now says he is close to signing a contract to host a radio or cable television talk show." - Boston Globe, 3/16/04

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Monday, March 15, 2004

MIKE BARNICLE, MEDIA CRITIC. In the New York Daily News, Barnicle weighs in on the New York Post front-page photo of a young woman leaping to her death. (Via Romenesko.) Here is Post chief copy editor Barry Gross's defense. So help me, I agree with Barnicle. This was a suicide, with no larger implications that would warrant running the picture. But what's Barnicle going to say the first time the Boston Herald runs a photo like that?

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SPAIN SAYS NO. The terrorist attack in Spain, and the subsequent victory of the opposition Socialist Party, defy easy analysis. My thoughts are completely conflicted. (Which is why I recommend this New York Times Magazine essay by the Kennedy School's Michael Ignatieff, a liberal supporter of the war in Iraq.)

On the one hand, I believe George W. Bush's decision to go to war on Iraq was ill-considered. There were no weapons of mass destruction and no evidence that Saddam Hussein's government was tied to Al Qaeda. In light of that, Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar's decision to support Bush's war against the wishes of 90 percent of his own people amounted to courage uninformed by judgment.

On the other hand, the Spanish public, by flipping from Aznar's Popular Party to the Socialists almost overnight, may very well have sent a signal to Al Qaeda about how easily they can be swayed by a terrorist attack. Incoming prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero says he'll pull Spanish troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, and who can blame him? They shouldn't have been there in the first place. But I'm afraid that he - and the voters who just put him in office - are doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

At such a time of uncertainty, it can at least be helpful to find someone with whom to disagree. Andrew Sullivan today offers the insulting headline "Bin Laden's Victory in Spain." What follows is only slightly more nuanced.

What Sullivan and his ilk don't seem to get is that the way Saddam was removed was every bit as important as the fact that he was removed. Saddam was one of the most evil dictators of our time (though a piker compared to the guy with the hair in North Korea), and the people of Iraq are far, far better off without him.

But by arrogantly swaggering in without the support of the United Nations and with phonied-up evidence of Iraq's weapons capabilities, Bush and his handful of friends have created a mess that may take a generation to clean up.

Sullivan's right about one thing: Britain is the next logical target.

THE GOD OF REAL ESTATE. If you didn't read Kevin Cullen's page-one story in yesterday's Boston Globe about ex-gangster Eddie MacKenzie's virtual takeover of a small Beacon Hill church, click here.

It is, as they say in the business, a "holy shit" story.

PUBLIC RELIGIOSITY. I'll be moderating a Ford Hall Forum discussion on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. on "Prayer in Public." The panelists will be Ellen Band, an artist and the creator of Portal of Prayer, a sound-based work of public art; Wendy Kaminer, a prominent civil libertarian and writer; and Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr., dean of religious and spiritual life at Wellesley College.

The discussion will take place at the Old South Meeting House.

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

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