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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, March 26, 2004

BARNICLE APOLOGIZES. Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle today apologized on his WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) program for using the word "Mandingo" on Tuesday in referring to the marriage of former secretary of defense William Cohen, who's white, and former Boston television news personality Janet Langhart, who's black.

I didn't hear the original reference on Tuesday. This morning, though, Barnicle said he was referring to an old movie of that name about the marriage of a white man and a black woman, that he's friends with Langhart and knows Cohen slightly, and that he meant no offense.

The only film I could find at the Internet Movie Database called Mandingo was this one, made in 1975. According to the description, "A slave owner in the 1840s trains one of his slaves to be a bare-knuckle fighter, unaware that his wife is demanding from his champion services of a different kind." Not quite the same thing. And check out this user comment:

Like titillating porn, Mandingo is the kind of film you rent and hope no one you know is looking. Then you hurry home, lower the blinds, make sure the kids are in bed, then turn on the VCR in anticipation. This film is so politically incorrect it's worth it on that merit alone! Black and white stereotypes are played up to the hilt and everybody is running around "pleasuring" any thing that moves.

Nice! Well, maybe Barnicle was thinking of another movie called Mandingo. Is there one?

Anyway, Media Log's instant analysis is that Barnicle was an idiot to toss off a racially charged term like "Mandingo" (which he essentially acknowledged); that he's a recidivist (he recently referred to an Iranian actress and an African-born actor as "terrorists"); but that his apology at least puts him ahead of his 'TKK colleague Jay Severin, who uses terms like "wetback" and "towelhead" without consequence.

We'll be kicking this around later today on Greater Boston, on WGBH-TV (Channel 2) at 7 p.m.

CLOSED QUARTERS. Jack Wilson might prove that he's a terrific choice as the new president of UMass, but the process, or lack thereof, reeked. Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh explains why.

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Thursday, March 25, 2004

THE COMEBACK KID. Mark Shanahan has a good piece on David Brudnoy in today's Globe. Brudnoy, who's recovering from cancer, returned to his talk-show perch at WBZ Radio (AM 1030) this week. The Boston Herald's Marie Szaniszlo wrote about Brudnoy's first night back on Tuesday, as did Herald columnist Mike Barnicle (sub. req.).

Here's an interview I did with Brudnoy last month.

Welcome back, David.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. An anti-war documentary is coming soon to a retail outlet near you.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

REPORTER CONTRACTS TB. Boston Herald reporter Jules Crittenden writes today that among the things he brought home from Iraq was an asymptomatic case of tuberculosis. He writes:

My biggest concern is getting the word out to professionals now traveling to the region, thanks to our ongoing wars and occupation of highly infected areas. You need to be tested. The colleagues I've spoken to were unaware of the risk.

Sounds like something every newsroom ought to be thinking about.

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REMOVAL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Let's see if I've got this straight. NPR's Morning Edition has some 13 million weekly listeners, putting it in the same ballpark as Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. Its audience is up 41 percent in the past five years, according to NPR's own numbers. And the host since 1979, Bob Edwards, has been pushed out, with no replacement having yet been named.

Edwards tells the Washington Post that he blames Jay Kernis, NPR's senior vice-president for programming, saying, "I think it's a style thing. I think he's tired of listening to me." Well, that makes about as much sense as anything else, unless there was something going on behind the scenes that we don't know about.

Here is NPR's own announcement of the change.

Nothing lasts forever, of course. But Edwards is still only 56. NPR's drive-time newscasts, Morning Edition and All Things Considered, though not perfect, are by far the best broadcast news programs on the air - far better than PBS's wretched NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.

The only good news to offset this announcement is that William Marimow, a former editor of the Baltimore Sun, has been named to a top position at NPR. Marimow is a Pulitzer winner and a respected journalist, so Edwards's removal shouldn't be seen as a sign that NPR is lowering its standards.

What it is a sign of remains, at this point, impossible to say.

SMEARING CLARKE. Josh Marshall is keeping track of the Republican smear campaign against former counter-terrorism official Richard Clarke.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

FOX AND CNN: WHO'S WATCHING? According to a new report by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), the notion that the Fox News Channel is trouncing CNN in the ratings is one of those received pieces of conventional wisdom that doesn't hold up when you look at the facts.

The report, by FAIR's Steve Rendall, finds that Fox's lead is in the "share" - that is, how many viewers are watching at any given time. By contrast, CNN holds a wide lead in the "cume," which measures how many viewers tune in for at least six minutes a day. Because CNN emphasizes news and Fox's programming consists mainly of opinion-driven talk shows, viewers tend to stick with CNN for a shorter period than Fox watchers - but there are many more of them.

How dramatic is the difference between the two measurements? Rendall writes:

CNN regularly claims a cume about 20 percent higher than Fox's (Deseret Morning News, 1/12/04). For instance, in April 2003, during the height of the fighting in Iraq, CNN's cume was significantly higher than Fox's: 105 million viewers tuned into CNN compared to 86 million for Fox (Cablefax, 4/30/03). But in the same period, the ratings reported by most media outlets had Fox in the lead, with an average of 3.5 million viewers to CNN's 2.2 million.

As it turns out, these "lighter" viewers are more valuable to advertisers than the folks who sit inertly through The O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, and On the Record with Greta Van Susteren for hour after hour. That's because showing viewers the same commercials over and over is less cost-effective than hitting channel-surfers once or twice. Thus CNN is able to charge higher advertising rates than Fox even though its audience share is smaller. Then there's this:

Interviewed in MediaWeek last year (2/10/04), media business analyst Larry Blasius suggested that snob appeal was part of the reason that he didn't think Fox would soon catch CNN in the race for ad dollars (MediaWeek, 2/10/04): "There are two kinds of news advertisers. If you're talking cold remedies, you're buying eyeballs. Others are looking for an environment, an image. They're looking to reach decision-makers and influencers who watch news. If you're an image-oriented product - a BMW, Mercedes, Lexus - it's not even a question, you go with CNN. There's no comparison in the quality of the journalism - CNN is light years ahead in objectivity and reporting - and I don't think Fox's 'New York Post on TV' approach appeals to the most desirable consumers."

Why is this important? There have been times over the past few years when CNN executives have sought to emulate Fox - not nearly to the degree as the desperadoes at MSNBC, but certainly there is more talk and less news at CNN than there was, say, 10 years ago. FAIR's report shows that aping Fox is not just bad journalism, it's bad business as well.

posted at 8:51 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, March 22, 2004

HERALD EXODUS CONTINUES. Two more familiar bylines will soon be disappearing. Investigative reporter Jonathan Wells, a veteran of CBS's 60 Minutes, gave his notice at the Boston Herald today. He's leaving to become executive producer of the investigative unit at WFXT-TV (Channel 25), known as "Fox 25 Undercover." The unit comprises an on-air reporter, Mike Beaudet; the executive producer's slot that Wells just took; and a producer's position that Wells will be filling. You can bet the résumés are flying between Wingo Square and Channel 25's Dedham headquarters.

Media Log has also learned that City Hall reporter Ellen Silberman will be leaving to take a job with state inspector general Gregory Sullivan. Silberman was unable to talk when I reached her, but she did confirm the pending move.

"It's a combination of things," Wells told me when I asked him why he was leaving the Herald. "The most important reason is that I had planned at some point in the near future to try to go back into television, and this was a good opportunity to do it, and to do it in Boston."

Wells declined to discuss the ongoing turmoil at the Herald, but there has been plenty. In recent weeks editor Andy Costello was removed, managing editor Andrew Gully announced he would be leaving no later than June, and Mike Barnicle - who lost his column at the Boston Globe in 1998 in part because the Herald revealed he'd lifted one-liners from a George Carlin book - was hired, to considerable newsroom consternation.

Wells worked at the Herald for six years before moving to 60 Minutes in 1993. He returned to Boston in 1999, and ended up back at the Herald after the Globe proved to be reluctant to bring him aboard.

The two Herald stories Wells says he's proudest of are the paper's post-9/11 coverage of ties between Saudi Arabia and both the Clinton and Bush White Houses, and a series from last year (with recent follow-ups) of possible ties between the Islamic Society of Boston and several people who may had dealings with terrorists.

Update: Ellen Silberman checks in to say that she's leaving for reasons other than the turmoil that's hit the Herald newsroom. "I've been at the Herald for six years," she says. "I don't want to go the Globe. And I would like to make decent money at some point in my life. So this seemed like a good opportunity. The timing is largely coincidental. It happens to be a moment of uncertainty at the Herald." She adds: "It's not like I'm a rat leaving a sinking ship. That's not where I'm at. It's more money, it's better hours, and it's a new challenge."

Silberman will leave the Herald in early April and begin working at the IG's office at the end of the month. She adds that she'll be helping with investigations, not press.

BRUDNOY'S BACK TONIGHT. The talk-radio legend will be behind the mike from 7 to 10 p.m. on WBZ Radio (AM 1030).

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TRASHING CLARKE. The reductive bullet point that's been attached to former White House anti-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke's critique of the Bush White House is that he's blaming George W. Bush for 9/11. The conservatives particularly like this ("Behind the Effort to Blame Bush for September 11," reads the subhead of a Wall Street Journal editorial today) because the notion is ridiculous, and thus easily swatted aside.

The truth is that even though the terrorist attacks could have been anticipated as one of many possible scenarios involving Al Qaeda, the chances of stopping those particular attacks on that particular day were minimal.

Thus, what's really disturbing about Clarke's brief - laid out in an interview with 60 Minutes last night - is not that Bush could have stopped it. Rather, it is that Bush and his administration dropped the intense focus that the Clinton White House had given Al Qaeda, and that, as soon as the attacks occurred, the Bushies immediately pressed for evidence of a non-existent link with Iraq.

Here is a particularly revealing passage from 60 Minutes:

"The president dragged me into a room with a couple of other people, shut the door, and said, 'I want you to find whether Iraq did this.' Now he never said, 'Make it up.' But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.

"I said, 'Mr. President. We've done this before. We have been looking at this. We looked at it with an open mind. There's no connection.'

"He came back at me and said, "Iraq! Saddam! Find out if there's a connection.' And in a very intimidating way. I mean that we should come back with that answer. We wrote a report."

Clarke continued, "It was a serious look. We got together all the FBI experts, all the CIA experts. We wrote the report. We sent the report out to CIA and found FBI and said, 'Will you sign this report?' They all cleared the report. And we sent it up to the president and it got bounced by the National Security Advisor or Deputy. It got bounced and sent back saying, 'Wrong answer. ... Do it again.'

"I have no idea, to this day, if the president saw it, because after we did it again, it came to the same conclusion. And frankly, I don't think the people around the president show him memos like that. I don't think he sees memos that he doesn't - wouldn't like the answer."

The right, of course, is already trying to discredit Clarke as a partisan warrior - never mind the fact that he worked not just for Clinton but also for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and, until recently, George W. Then, too, Clarke is out pushing a new book, which I guess we're supposed to take as some sign of moral turpitude.

But as Josh Marshall notes today, what's really interesting about this is how at odds Clarke's account is with that of national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Given Rice's dubious reputation for veracity, I'd say Clarke ought to be taken very seriously.

A NEW BOSTON BLOG. The Boston Herald has started something called the "Road to Boston Blog." Written (so far) by political reporter David Guarino, the blog began with a "soft launch" Friday. This is the first official Herald blog - business reporter Jay Fitzgerald and columnist Cosmo Macero have been blogging for a while, but they do it on their own websites.

The Boston Globe is taking a different approach, with op-ed columnists writing Web-only pieces once a month.

posted at 8:59 AM | comment or permalink


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

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