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See the World Through My Daughter's Eyes (Rodale, October 2003),
Friday, April 23, 2004
BITCH, BITCH, BITCH. If you
turn to page E13 of today's Boston Globe, you'll find this
where Doonesbury usually appears:
The Globe has decided not to
publish today's installment of "Doonesbury" because the strip
includes language inappropriate for a general readership. The
strip's creator declined to change the wording or offer a
substitute. "Doonesbury" resumes in tomorrow's comics pages.
Today's strip is available online at www.boston.com/ae/comics/.
Now, I already knew that B.D.'s leg
had been blown off in Iraq. When I saw the disclaimer this morning, I
figured cartoonist Garry Trudeau must have had him let loose an
F-bomb. So I was more than a little surprised when I learned the
offending phrase was "son of a bitch." Pretty mild stuff.
Romenesko's got a round-up
of newspaper reaction. To me, the proof that the Globe
overreacted was the decision by the Tallahassee Democrat to
run the strip unedited.
A couple of additional
- Adam Gaffin, the Roslindale guy
Online, did a
search and found that the
Globe published 12 articles last year that used the word
"bitch." His suggestion: if "bitch" is too rough for the funny pages,
move Doonesbury to the op-ed page. (He also suggests moving
Mallard Fillmore and maybe Boondocks to op-ed, but, uh,
don't you need room for columns and stuff?)
- The Globe's wimp-out
suggests that the Internet has made it too easy for editors to err on
the side of hypercaution. Doonesbury has always been
controversial, and a number of newspapers have pulled it from time to
time over the years. (And, kids, you're not going to believe this:
Doonesbury used to be funny, too. It was during a time called
the '70s.) Ten years ago, an editor would have to think long and hard
before dumping that day's Doonesbury, since it would have been
very difficult for readers to see it elsewhere. Today, not only can
Globe readers find it on the Web, but the Globe gives
them the URL.
The good part is that even if
something like today's Doonesbury gets dumped, it's still
widely available to almost everyone. The bad part is that this
encourages fuzzy thinking: the consequences are much lower for an
editor who decides not to run a cartoon if he or she knows that
readers will be no more than mildly inconvenienced.
ANOTHER MAGIC WOODWARD
MOMENT. The reason that the Bush-Cheney website recommends
Bob Woodward's Plan of Attack is that George W. Bush is
running for re-election and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld
In September 2002, according to
Woodward, Bush met with congressional leaders and outlined the
reasons he was considering going to war. By Woodward's account, it
went well. Then it was Rumsfeld's turn. Woodward writes:
In the "Night Note for
September 4," Christine M. Ciccone, a young lawyer who covered the
Senate for [Nicholas] Calio [Bush's congressional
liaison], reported on Rumsfeld's one-and-a-half-hour briefing.
"You have already heard it was a disaster and [Trent] Lott
views it as having destroyed all of the goodwill and groundwork
that the president accomplished during his meeting this morning. I
found myself struggling to keep from laughing out loud at times,
especially when Sec. Rumsfeld became a caricature of himself with
the 'we know what we know, we know there are things we do not
know, and we know there are things we know we don't know we don't
Senators had expected that the
briefing, coming on the heels of the president's meeting that
morning, would begin the process of making the administration's
case, she reported. "Instead, Secretary Rumsfeld was not prepared
to discuss Iraq issues, was unwilling to share even the most basic
intelligence information, and wasn't having a good day.... There
is a lot of cleanup work to do here."
Obviously the senators didn't
realize that Rummy was reciting poetry.
posted at 12:39 PM |
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Thursday, April 22, 2004
WHAT THE POST DIDN'T TELL
YOU. Here's an intriguing tidbit from Bob Woodward's new book,
Plan of Attack. In December 2001, the CIA - following up on
information from Britain's MI6 - learned of Pakistan's role in
nuclear proliferation. CIA director George Tenet reportedly had a
meeting with Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, in which
he "peel[ed] back the eyeballs" of his host.
Among other things, the CIA feared
that nuclear technology had fallen into the hands of Al
The Washington Post learned
of this as well. Woodward explains why you didn't read about
Two reporters at The
Washington Post had got wind of the possible nuclear or dirty
bomb threat and a story was about to be published on Sunday,
December 2, with some of the details. With Tenet out of the
country, a very senior CIA official called me at home hours before
the story was to be printed and urged it be delayed.
Of Musharraf, the official said,
"We leaned on him heavily" and were "turning the screws." The
official said, "We just reached the point where they [the
Pakistanis] will work with us. A story would cause them to
clam up and they would see it as an attempt to pressure them"
through the media. The information was sketchy, he said. "What we
have is more suggestive than conclusive."
Len Downie, the executive editor
of the Post, spoke with the CIA official and decided to
hold the story.
Two days later, Woodward writes,
the Post ran a watered-down version.
This is reminiscent of the New
York Times' decision in 1961, at another time of high national
anxiety, to tone down its story about the pending Bay of Pigs
invasion of Cuba after the White House intervened with legendary
Washington columnist and editor James Reston. The Times and
the Bay of Pigs is as much myth as fact - the truth is that the
Times didn't really change its story all that much - but the
the circumstances are similar.
I think the Post made the
right call on the loose-nuke story, especially coming less than three
months after 9/11. Still, it's interesting to find out what goes on
behind closed doors at our leading news organizations.
DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT
TECHNOLOGY. The New York Times is at it again. Just three
days after publishing a story about the online-music industry that
was largely based on a
false premise, today the
paper runs an editorial blasting the indecency crusade (good), with
reasoning based on yet another false premise (bad, bad!).
Noting that Congress is now
considering whether to extend indecency standards to pay-TV services
such as HBO, home of The Sopranos, the Times
"Washington's pro-decency crusade is no excuse to regulate media
that do not use public airwaves. Tony Soprano's foul speech is
My goodness gracious, no, as Donald
Rumsfeld would say, and as Tony Soprano might soon be saying as well.
As I explained
recently, it might very well be possible to extend indecency
standards to cable - including pay TV - because, in fact, those
services do use the public airwaves. Remember, cable used to
be called "community antenna television," and though the name has
changed, the technology hasn't. Your local cable operator has a huge
"head end" antenna somewhere in the vicinity that pulls programming
off a satellite before sending it to your home. The signal travels
from satellite to head-end antenna via - are you paying attention,
Gail Collins? - the public airwaves!
Because of this, there are those
who believe the FCC doesn't even need additional congressional
approval to start regulating cable.
The best legal argument for leaving
pay TV alone is that, unlike over-the-air broadcast channels that
come into your home whether you want them or not, you've got to make
two voluntary choices to get, say, HBO: first, you've got to sign up
for cable or satellite TV; then you've got to make the additional
decision to pay for HBO.
The Times' heart is in the
right place, but it's not going to convince anyone if it can't make a
technologically factual argument.
NEW IN THIS WEEK'S
PHOENIX. What's wrong
with campaign-finance reform. Also, the ghost of Thomas
Jefferson has words with
the Defense Department and the Secret Service.
posted at 7:49 AM |
comment or permalink
Wednesday, April 21, 2004
MAYBE IF ASHCROFT DEMANDS THE
CAPE COD TIMES' SUBSCRIPTION LIST ... The indefatigable
Walter Brooks has posted on his Cape
Cod Media site
editorials on the loathsome
Patriot Act. One, from the New York Times, is against it. The
other, from the Cape Cod Times, is all for it.
Amazingly, the Cape Cod paper, part
of the Dow Jones empire, goes so far as to support the most chilling
part of the Patriot Act - Section 215, which allows federal agents,
with minimal court oversight, to demand that a library or bookstore
turn over the records of a patron in total secrecy, with no right of
appeal. The editorial says:
That's why the Patriot Act
allows - with FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act]
court approval - the FBI to snoop and gather third-party records
without the criminal requirement of certifying that a crime has
already taken place, or informing the subject of a search with a
traditional warrant. If a terror attack is looming, what would be
the point of telling would-be Mohammed Attas they're under
By contrast, the New York
Times says this:
Among the most troubling
provisions is Section 215, which allows the F.B.I. to order
libraries, hospitals and others with personal records to hand over
such information about individuals. People like librarians can be
jailed if they refuse, or if they notify the targets. Another
authorizes "sneak and peek" searches, in which the government can
secretly search people's homes and delay telling them about the
intrusions. As troubling as specific provisions like these is the
"mission creep" that has inevitably occurred. Mr. Bush's own
Justice Department told Congress last fall that the act's loosened
restrictions on government surveillance were regularly being used
in nonterrorism cases, like drug trafficking and white-collar
Brooks presents the two editorials
with this puckish introduction: "Both the Cape Cod Times and
the New York Times ran lead editorials today on the wisdom of
passing The Patriot Act which expires shortly. The two editorials are
diametrically opposed, and we recommend that our readers be the judge
of which advice to follow."
REAL MEN DON'T NEED TRIALS.
Also not big on legal protections today is the Boston Herald,
whose front-page - festooned with a huge file photo of Saddam Hussein
shortly after being pulled out of the spider hole - declares: $75
MILLION TO PROVE WHAT WE KNOW ALREADY: HE'S GUILTY!
Inside, David Guarino's
makes the perfectly reasonable point that $75 million is an awful lot
of money for the tribunal that Iraq plans to establish.
posted at 11:58 AM |
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Tuesday, April 20, 2004
CAMPAIGN. Boston Globe Washington-bureau chief Peter
Canellos has come up with a new way of framing the Bush-Kerry race.
In his Tuesday "National Perspective" column, Canellos
that Kerry is running as the incumbent and Bush as the challenger.
The idea is that with Bush under fire for his handling of such
life-and-death matters as Iraq and 9/11, it is Kerry who represents
continuity and Bush who personifies radical change - change for the
Kerry, for his part, seems
to have realized that his best hope is to run as the Default
President, the place to which voters can connect when the regular
president goes on the fritz.
This makes Kerry's position
unusual, to say the least, for a presidential challenger. Instead
of painting castles in the sky and urging voters to share his
dreams, Kerry has been grounding himself in the policies of the
past. He will try to become the incumbent in the race,
representing 50 years of postwar consensus against four years of
Canellos is definitely on to
something, but is Kerry being smart? For the moment, yes, because
Bush is melting down. But surely the Kerry campaign can't expect that
to last through Election Day. Once Bush regains his groove, Kerry's
current above-the-fray stance is going to start looking an awful lot
like the diffidence that got him into so much trouble last year, when
his campaign nearly died before it could reach the starting
blogger, Mickey Kaus, argues
(scroll down to April 12) that the senator's best shot is to stay out
of sight: "John Kerry does best when he's exposed to the voters
least! His optimal approach is to let Bush stew in the Iraq mess
while he remains offstage, an attractive unknown. Any other strategy
is a triumph of vanity over recent experience."
But that's not right. In fact, it's
when Kerry gets over-confident and slides into autopilot that he gets
into trouble. In nearly every one of his political campaigns, he's
looked surprisingly vulnerable until crunch time, when he goes into
crisis mode and blows his opponent away, whether it be Bill Weld in
Massachusetts eight years ago or Howard Dean in Iowa three months
ago. Somehow I doubt that's going to work against Karl
It's crisis time right now, and
it's going to stay that way until November.
SPEED READING. Unless you're
actually planning to read all 432 pages of John F. Kerry: The
Complete Biography by the Boston Globe Reporters Who Know Him
Best (and you know you're not; I might, but then I get paid to do
such things), you will want to check out Chris Suellentrop's amusing
to the highlights.
posted at 9:11 AM |
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Monday, April 19, 2004
WHEN DID BUSH TELL RICE HE WAS
GOING TO WAR? How soon we forget! The national-security adviser
went on CBS's Face the Nation yesterday and responded to the
charge in Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack, that George
W. Bush decided to go to war in January 2003, while UN weapons
inspections were still under way. The Los Angeles Times
National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that President Bush's decision to
invade Iraq was not made in January 2003, as a new book asserts,
but came in March, after all efforts to avoid a war had been
The statement in "Plan of
Attack," by Washington Post assistant managing editor Bob
Woodward, is "simply not, not right," Rice said on CBS's "Face the
In an interview broadcast
yesterday evening on CBS's "60 Minutes," Woodward said that "the
decision [to invade] was conveyed to Condi Rice in early
January.... [Bush] was frustrated with the weapons
inspections. He had promised the United Nations and the world and
the country that either the U.N. would disarm Saddam
[Hussein] or he, George Bush, would do it, and do it alone
But Rice said the final
determination that war would occur came more than two months after
their private conversation at Bush's Texas ranch.
In that conversation, Rice told
CBS, she and Bush were discussing Bush's frustrations with Saddam,
who Bush said "was starting to fool the world again, as he had
over the past 12 years."
"He said, 'Now, I think we
probably are going to have to go to war, we're going to have to go
to war,'" Rice said.
But that "was not a decision to
go to war," she continued. "The decision to go to war is in March.
The president is saying in that [January] conversation, 'I
think the chances are that this is not going to work out any other
way. We're going to have to go to war.'"
You can read the full Face the
Nation transcript here
(PDF format). But let's get real, shall we? If anything, Woodward is
being incredibly generous to the White House in asserting that the
decision was not made until January 2003. Here's the lead of a piece
that appeared in Time magazine on March 31, 2003:
"F--- Saddam. we're taking
him out." Those were the words of President George W. Bush, who
had poked his head into the office of National Security Adviser
Condoleezza Rice. It was March 2002, and Rice was meeting with
three U.S. Senators, discussing how to deal with Iraq through
the United Nations, or perhaps in a coalition with America's
Middle East allies. Bush wasn't interested. He waved his hand
dismissively, recalls a participant, and neatly summed up his Iraq
policy in that short phrase. The Senators laughed uncomfortably;
Rice flashed a knowing smile. The President left the room.
As far as I know, Time's
account has never been challenged. As we know from a spate of new
books - by former counter-terrorism adviser Richard Clarke,
journalist Ron Suskind (who collaborated with former Treasury
secretary Paul O'Neill), and others - the White House, and especially
Vice-President Dick Cheney, started talking about going to war with
Iraq in 2001, especially after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Bush's
chief of staff, Andrew Card, spoke
infamously about not
wanting to roll out a "new product" (war, that is) until September 2002.
And good grief: Time's Karen
Tumulty was on the set with Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer
yesterday, but she never said a thing about her own magazine's
year-old exclusive. What is wrong with these people?
DIGITALLY CLUELESS AT THE
TIMES. In today's New York Times, Ken Belson
about Sony's attempts to catch up with Apple in the online music
business. The ninth paragraph is a howler:
Like Apple's iTunes online
music store, [Sony's] Connect will have 500,000 songs that
can be downloaded for 99 cents each. But while iTunes songs can
be played only on iPods, Sony already sells a variety of
devices, including minidisc and compact disc players, which can
play songs bought on Connect's Web site. Sony's new Hi-MD disc
player, for instance, will hold up to 45 hours of music on one
disc, which will retail for about $7.
Well, uh, no. Not even close. At
the most basic level, you can burn a CD with songs that you download
from the iTunes Music Store, allowing you to listen to your music on
any CD player on the planet. In fact, that's the way most people use
the store - popular though the iPod may be, there are far more iTunes
Music Store customers out there than there are iPod owners. Belson
should have looked at this.
But though that's Belson's most
obvious mistake, it goes deeper. Apple sells songs in a format known
as AAC, which appears to be the crux of Belson's confusion. AAC is a competitor to MP3 that provides slightly smaller file
sizes, slightly better sound quality, and "digital rights management"
protection - that is, you can burn "playlists" onto a few CDs, but
you can't burn, say, 100, at least not without changing the order of
the tracks. There are a few other limitations, too. The idea is to
let you share your music with family members and friends, but not to
enable full-scale piracy.
However, the tracks on the CD
you've just burned are no longer AACs - they've been expanded into
standard AIFF files, as are all sound tracks on CDs. (This obviously
doesn't mean that the richness that was stripped out when the music
was compressed has somehow been magically restored; that's gone for
good.) You can now take your CD and rip it into plain, unprotected
MP3s. (Apple's claims that these MP3s will somehow be unlistenable
are - how to put this? - not true. This is the equivalent of your
first-grade teacher telling you that you will die if you put your
pencil in your mouth.)
Now you can do anything you like
with your MP3-ized iTunes songs - copy them onto a non-Apple MP3
player, burn them onto a CD-MP3 disc (like the 45-hour disc to which
Belson refers), whatever. Some of those devices might even carry the
This is not a minor error that
Belson made. The entire point of his story is that consumers
of digital music are awash in a sea of proprietary standards -
Apple's got one, Microsoft's got another, and now Sony is about to
introduce yet another. Gosh darn, what is the poor consumer to
Well, one place to start is to go
somewhere other than the New York Times for authoritative
posted at 9:39 AM |
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MEDIA LOG ARCHIVES
Dan Kennedy is senior writer and media critic for the Boston Phoenix.