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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, April 30, 2004

WE LIVE IN A POLITICAL WORLD. Two good pieces at on the controversy over ABC's Nightline, on which Ted Koppel will read the names of American soldiers killed in Iraq tonight.

Danny Schechter, noting Koppel's credentials as an establishment conservative, writes, "It is likely to embolden more critical journalism in the unbrave patriotically correct world of US media."

Meanwhile, Timothy Karr reports that the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is protesting Koppel's alleged politicization of the war in Iraq by refusing to run Nightline on its eight ABC affiliates, makes 98 percent of its political contributions to Republicans.

Politics is in the eye of the beholder.

MEDIA LOG ON CNN. I'll be on CNN's Reliable Sources this Sunday (11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.) talking about media coverage of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. I'm told I'll be on with Boston Globe reporter Michael Kranish, lead author of the Globe Kerry bio, and National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg.

posted at 11:16 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, April 29, 2004

AN INTRIGUING TERROR CONNECTION. Is there an actual, provable link between Saddam Hussein's former regime and international terrorism? That's always been the big question. If the White House had been able to prove such a connection, a whole lot more people would have supported the war in Iraq.

This editorial in today's Wall Street Journal tells what is known so far (which is admittedly not much) about a terrorist attack that was foiled in Jordan earlier this month. Among the allegations: the terrorists had planned to use poison gas, which could have killed as many as 80,000 people; the gas came from Syria; it might have been shipped to Syria from Iraq before the war; and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whom the Bush administration says was given carte blanche to operate in Iraq by Saddam's government, may have been behind the plot.

Here is a piece from the Christian Science Monitor of Tuesday covering much of the same ground.

Obviously we need to wait for a much more in-depth report. It's always curious when the Journal's right-wing editorial page runs with something that its news section - one of the finest in the world - has ignored. But this is potentially a huge story.

HATE SPEECH AT UMASS. There is opposing the war but supporting the troops. There is opposing the war while openly mocking the troops. And there is a UMass student by the name of Rene Gonzalez, who actually manages to trash the memory of Pat Tillman, the NFL star who joined the Army Rangers after 9/11, and who was killed in action in Afghanistan.

Gonzalez, after calling Tillman an "idiot," writes in the Daily Collegian:

Tillman, probably acting out his nationalist-patriotic fantasies forged in years of exposure to Clint Eastwood and Rambo movies, decided to insert himself into a conflict he didn't need to insert himself into. It wasn't like he was defending the East coast from an invasion of a foreign power. THAT would have been heroic and laudable. What he did was make himself useful to a foreign invading army, and he paid for it. It's hard to say I have any sympathy for his death because I don't feel like his "service" was necessary. He wasn't defending me, nor was he defending the Afghani people. He was acting out his macho, patriotic crap and I guess someone with a bigger gun did him in.

Wow. I guess what surprised me the most is that Gonzalez is described as a graduate student. Most people get such crap out of their systems by the time they're 21 or 22.

Well, Gonzalez's views are protected by the First Amendment, if not by the rule of common sense or decency.

posted at 12:49 PM | comment or permalink

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY'S VERY BAD DAY. The historian and John Kerry biographer gets one upside the head from Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam. I'd say Beam has Brinkley dead to rights in his portrayal of him as a campaign surrogate.

Here is Brinkley's Tuesday piece for Salon (sub. req.) on the non-story of whether Kerry threw his ribbons or his medals over the fence in 1971. Pretty convincing. But - idiotic as this controversy may be - why can't Kerry explain it as succinctly and convincingly as Brinkley, Tom Oliphant, and Robert Sam Anson?

Naturally, Mickey Kaus thinks Anson's account is evidence of more shocking Kerry lies.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. When Bob met Dubya: Woodward's latest is a lot easier on the president than the author wants you to think.

Also, Jay Severin's Muslim moment.

posted at 8:47 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

LET THEM EAT BOEUF! Media Log's slogan: You can't make this stuff up!® I just found this nugget near the end of John Harris's Washington Post story of last Saturday on Republican efforts to cast Senator John Kerry as a wealthy elitist:

There has been an echo of this kind of down-home invective in the controversy over Kerry's statement that foreign leaders secretly back his candidacy. Pressed last Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" on where and when the leaders told him this, Kerry declined to say, but he noted: "You can go to New York City and you can be in a restaurant and you can meet a foreign leader."

This prompted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) on Monday to sneer: "I don't know where John Kerry eats, or what restaurants he attends in New York City. But I tell you, at the Taste of Texas restaurant - it's this great steakhouse in Houston, Texas - the only foreign leader you meet there is called filet mignon."

Boneless steak for a bonehead. Don't you wish Tom DeLay was your congressman?

posted at 4:00 PM | comment or permalink

COMMON USAGE. Not long after writing a piece on the rivalry between the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald, I received a message from inside Wingo Square. My informant complained I hadn't noted that the title of the redesigned Boston Globe Magazine's front-of-the-book section - "Boston Uncommon" - was already being used by Herald sports columnist Howard Bryant.

Fair enough. But it turns out that "Boston Uncommon" is about as original as "it was a dark and stormy night." Click here and you'll see what I mean. "Boston Uncommon" has been used to describe wedding and honeymoon packages, attractions for students, and crab cakes. It's the name of a vocal group, the title of an article about Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, and the headline on a story about a Palm Beach County gardener who moved there from Boston.

The Christian Science Monitor used it for a things-to-do piece., a Florida website, used it for an 82-year-old guy who was planning to run the Boston Marathon. The Cincinnati Post used it to describe a former Ohio State football star named David Boston.

Titles are often used to evoke a sense of the familiar rather than dazzle with originality. They also can't be copyrighted, although they can be trademarked for certain limited purposes. (Very limited, as Roger Ailes learned when he went after Al Franken.)

Does any of this matter? No. Just thought I'd share.

posted at 12:01 PM | comment or permalink

AIR AMERICA'S GROWING PAINS. Ridiculous though it may be, it appears that the death watch has already begun for Air America Radio. The Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that two of the liberal network's top executives, Mark Walsh and Dave Logan, have left the building - Walsh under his own power, Logan possibly not. This comes on the heels of a legal and financial dispute that has left Air America without stable homes in Los Angeles and Chicago.

The New York Times follows up today. And Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, tells the Washington Post the obvious: "Chaos is not a good sign." A nitwit named Corey Deitz goes so far as to argue that Air America hosts Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo should emulate Gordon Liddy. What, by going to prison?

Needless to say, Air America can't be heard in Boston, either, unless you're paying for satellite radio or listening to the live stream over the Web.

Obviously Air America is going through growing pains, or maybe something rather worse than that. But the network is still only a month old. The unanswered question - and the key to the whole operation - is how much money its backers are prepared to spend to get this thing off the ground. If they're willing to spend whatever it takes for a year or two, then the current chaos doesn't matter. If they were hoping to break even within months after launching, then one suspects they didn't know what they were getting into in the first place.

Air America continues to add affiliates, including WMTW Radio (AM 870) in Portland, Maine. The station is changing its call letters to WLVP, which veteran radio-watcher Scott Fybush guesses stands for "Liberal Voice of Portland."

One thing I wonder about is whether the liberal audience that Air America has targeted really understands how bad talk radio is most of the time. Everyone talks about how successful Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are, but they host dreadful, almost unlistenable shows - smug, boring, unentertaining agitprop that is nearly impossible to listen to unless you've been lobotomized. Air America wants to rise above that, but it's hard to do so hour after hour after hour. Conservatives may be willing to listen to such crap, but that's one of the reasons that they're conservatives.

Time will tell whether Air America is going to succeed, and money will determine how much time there is. Everything else is irrelevant.

THE SILENCE OF THE LEAKEE. There is a magical moment laying bare the media-political axis toward the end of today's James Risen New York Times story on Defense Department neocon conspiracy theorist Douglas Feith ("the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth," according to General Tommy Franks).

Risen writes this about Michael Maloof, one of several deep thinkers Feith brought in to concoct ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda:

Mr. Maloof's Pentagon career was damaged in December 2001, when his security clearances were revoked. He was accused of having unauthorized contact with a foreign national, a woman he had met while traveling in the Republic of Georgia and eventually married. Mr. Maloof said he complied with all requirements to disclose the relationship. Several intelligence professionals say he came under scrutiny because of suspicions that he had leaked classified information in the past to the news media, a charge that Mr. Maloof denies. His lawyer, Sam Abady says that Mr. Maloof was a target because of his controversial intelligence work and political ties to conservative Pentagon leaders.

Today's question: is there any chance whatsoever that Risen doesn't know whether or not Maloof had leaked classified information to the news media?

posted at 9:06 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

NOT-SO-TABLOID VALUES. The Boston Herald today opted for substance over sensation in a heartening way. Like the Boston Globe, the tabloid led with Superior Court judge Margot Botsford's ruling that the state's system for financing public education is inadequate and discriminates against poorer communities.

The front-page splash in the Herald is "SAVE OUR SCHOOLS," along with a photo of Julie Hancock, the Brockton 10th-grader who is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. (Hancock is the daughter of Brockton School Committee member Maurice Hancock.) Inside is a meaty, two-page package - a lead story by Kevin Rothstein, sidebars by Rothstein on Hancock and school-funding activist Norma Shapiro, a column (sub. req.) by Mike Barnicle (who failed to stay on message, instead going off on a bender about gay marriage), and a chart showing educational inequities between rich and poor communities.

The Globe's coverage, by Anand Vaishnav, is fine, and I'll certainly take the Globe's supportive editorial over the Herald's miserly stance. But the Herald's package was, I hope, a sign that acting editor Ken Chandler's reign isn't going to be all sex and celebrity.

posted at 1:14 PM | comment or permalink

SMEARING KERRY'S SERVICE. There has always been something uniquely John Kerry-ish about the matter of whether it was his medals or his ribbons that he threw over the fence at that antiwar rally in Washington more than three decades ago, or even whether medals and ribbons are or are not the same thing. As Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi writes today, "A person watching Kerry run for president wants to shake him and say, 'Stop, please stop.'"

Still, ABC News's "exclusive" on Good Morning America yesterday is an utter disgrace - an attempt to make something out of nothing, and to impugn the integrity and patriotism of someone who came to oppose an immoral war in which he had fought. Tom Oliphant's eyewitness account in today's Globe ought to put this non-story to rest.

"God, they're doing the bidding of the Republican National Committee," the Globe's Patrick Healy quotes Kerry as saying of ABC. Kerry's right, and it's frighteningly reminiscent of the way that the media took dictation from the Republicans in going after Al Gore four years ago.

Yet Healy also undermines Kerry's ability to defend himself by getting something else half-right. In response to the ABC/GOP smear, Healy writes, "Kerry turned the issue against the president, saying for the first time that Bush was far more vulnerable on matters of Vietnam-era choices because of questions about whether he completed his service in the Texas Air National Guard. 'He owes America an explanation about whether or not he showed up for duty in the National Guard. Prove it,' Kerry told NBC." Healy then adds:

Kerry has said for months that he would not question the president's Texas Air National Guard record even as his allies, such as the Democratic National Committee chairman, Terry McAuliffe, and former US senator Max Cleland, suggested Bush had been "AWOL" at times in the early '70s and may not have completed his Guard service. Kerry said that, as a Vietnam veteran, he had come to terms with others' decisions about serving their country during the Vietnam era, and once defended President Clinton for not serving.

And then this, farther down in the article:

Republicans, meanwhile, pounced on Kerry's comments about Bush yesterday, noting his past pledge not to criticize the military service of other members of the Vietnam generation. "It's another example of John Kerry saying one thing and doing another: He said he would never question the president's honorable service in the National Guard, but now he is lashing out," said Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush campaign. "It is a purely venomous political attack, and the American people will reject it."

Now, I can't cite chapter and verse. But I've followed this pretty closely, and it seems to me that Kerry has always said the issue he considered out of bounds was Bush's decision to serve in the Texas Air National Guard rather than opt for potentially more hazardous duty in the US military. To my knowledge, though, Kerry has never said he would not question whether Bush didn't serve in the National Guard. (Oof. Triple negative. Sorry.) Those are two completely different issues. Choosing to serve in the Guard is one thing; blowing it off is quite another. And if the Republicans are going to attack Kerry's military service, it is absurd to think that Kerry shouldn't fight back.

E.J. Dionne has a terrific column in today's Washington Post on the Republicans' loathsome attempts to smear Kerry's military record, noting that Bush's fellow Republican John McCain has come to Kerry's defense. Asks Dionne: "Now that McCain has spoken, will Bush have the guts to endorse or condemn the attacks on Kerry's service? Or will he just sit by silently, hoping the assaults do their work while he evades responsibility?"

Sadly, I think we already know the answer.

SEVERIN'S WORDS. The Boston Globe has obtained a transcript of WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Jay Severin's remarks of last Thursday, which he both defended and expressed "regret" for yesterday afternoon.

There appears to be something for everyone. On the one hand, Severin was right about what he actually said. He did not say, "I've got an idea, let's kill all Muslims," as claimed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which has called for his firing. As Severin correctly said yesterday, his actual words to a caller were, "You think we should befriend them; I think we should kill them."

On the other hand, Severin offered virtually no context, at least according to the Globe report, by Michael Rosenwald. At one point, Severin is quoted as having said, "My suspicion is that the majority of Muslims in the United States, who regard themselves as Muslims first and not as Americans really at all, see an American map one day where this is the United States of Islam, not the United States of America. I think it pays to harbor those suspicions."

That doesn't sound like someone who was only advocating the killing of Islamist terrorists.

posted at 8:50 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, April 26, 2004

SEVERIN DENIES CHARGES. I just listened to Jay Severin's opening monologue on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM). Severin addressed the claim made by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) that he had said on his show last Thursday, "I've got an idea, let's kill all Muslims." Severin denied ever having said such a thing, blasted the Boston Globe for reporting CAIR's charges without contacting him first, but nevertheless expressed "regret" to anyone who was offended by his remarks.

Calling it "a big story about imagined hate speech," Severin said, "If we were to make a tape of it, I could find maybe 1000 recordings ... with my saying the following words: all Muslims are not terrorists, all Muslims are not our enemies. But, so far, all the terrorists killing us are Muslims." He referred to Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby's Sunday piece on Arab and Muslim hatred toward the United States, and to a front-page story in today's New York Times headlined "Militants in Europe Openly Call for Jihad and the Rule of Islam."

Severin said that his remark about killing Muslims came in response to a caller who advocated peaceful relations with those elements of the Islamic world that hate the US. "When he said to me, 'I think we should be befriend them,' I said, 'I have a different notion, a different policy. I think we should kill them,'" Severin said today. He added: "I certainly regret any misunderstanding. I certainly regret any discomfort that may have been caused by the misunderstanding of my remarks." But he said that he has been "very clear, very contextual, very consistent" in saying that the US should kill its Muslim enemies - not that it should kill all Muslims.

"My remarks were not taken out of context. Someone made up my remarks," Severin said. He charged that CAIR simply took what a listener had e-mailed to the organization and wrote up a press release demanding that Severin be fired. "Those words were never uttered by me. Not off the air, not on the air, not ever. Never uttered by me," he said, calling CAIR's characterization "100 percent false. A fantasy, a fabrication, totally made up."

Severin also accused the Globe of not checking with him before going to press. (The Globe's story was published on Sunday, not Saturday, as I mistakenly reported earlier today.) He said someone at the Globe told him today that the reporter, Jessica Bennett, had tried to reach him and failed. But Severin said, "I'm in a 24/7 business. Everyone knows how to contact me."

He added: "My statements weren't taken out of context. My statements were made up, and then printed by the Boston Globe. Now, I wish to repeat that I'm not here to offend anyone. [Media Log aside: Hah!] I'm here to provoke thought, I'm here to express opinion."

A few off-the-cuff observations:

- A couple of quibbles aside, I basically believe Severin. I am thoroughly disgusted by his referring to Arabs and Muslims as "towelheads," by his suggestions that the US should nuke its enemies, and by his advocacy of scorched-earth tactics in Iraq. But I listen to him enough to know that it's not credible to imagine he would suddenly call for the deaths of "all" Muslims. He's always been clear that he wants us to kill Islamist terrorists who are trying to kill us. And, of course, we should.

- Severin refers to the Globe as "a ridiculously irresponsible major newspaper" for going to print without first contacting him. But according to Bennett's story, she did contact the station's general manager, Matt Mills, who reportedly declined to comment. She also refers to Severin's remarks as "alleged," which does qualify things a bit. CAIR had put out a press release on the wires the day before the Globe story ran. Assuming that Bennett genuinely attempted to reach Severin and couldn't, her and the paper's choice was either to run with what they had or hold it. Maybe they could have waited another day, but I don't think the decision they made was wrong.

- Severin makes no reference to an e-mail that Mills supposedly sent to CAIR in which he said: "I have spoken to Jay Severin and he knows we take this seriously and do not condone offensive remarks toward any religious groups and he will be apologizing on his show Monday afternoon. He did not intend to offend anyone." Maybe Mills will now claim that he never sent any such e-mail. But assuming that he did, it sounds like Mills was upset with his star talk-show host. Severin should have talked about that rather than blaming everything on CAIR and the Globe.

Maybe he will later this afternoon. Unfortunately, I won't be listening, because I'm on deadline with other matters.

posted at 4:00 PM | comment or permalink

SEVERIN REPORTEDLY TO APOLOGIZE. Well, this should be interesting. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) claims it has been promised that WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Jay Severin will apologize today during his show for saying, "I've got an idea, let's kill all Muslims." Severin allegedly made that remark last Thursday.

CAIR quotes from an e-mail the organization says it received from the station's general manager, Mark Mills: "I have spoken to Jay Severin and he knows we take this seriously and do not condone offensive remarks toward any religious groups and he will be apologizing on his show Monday afternoon. He did not intend to offend anyone."

Severin's alleged outburst reportedly came he while talking about a supposed Muslim plan to take over America, even if it takes centuries. CAIR is calling for Severin to be fired. The organization's chairman, Omar Ahmad, is quoted as saying: "We believe a mere reprimand and apology is insufficient and demand that he be taken off the air as he would be if he had attacked any other religious or ethnic group."

The Boston Globe reported on Severin's latest on Saturday.

I didn't hear Severin, so I don't want to prejudge this. I'll wait to hear what he has to say shortly after 3. But if past is prologue, this is unsurprising. As I've observed previously, Severin regularly refers to Arabs and Muslims as "towelheads" and illegal immigrants as "wetbacks." He has often advocated the use of nuclear weapons against enemies of the United States. And with the death toll in Iraq rising, Severin has expressed frustration that the US military is engaging in urban warfare - thus costing American lives - instead of essentially leveling areas where the Iraqi opposition is strong.

But doesn't Severin have a First Amendment right to say such things? Yes, of course. What he doesn't have is a First Amendment right to host a talk show. Hate speech is protected, but it's up to the management of WTKK to decide whether it wants to pay for such garbage. And CAIR has a First Amendment right to protest and to demand that Severin be fired.

Recently another 'TKK talk-show host, Mike Barnicle, apologized for using the word "Mandingo" in referring to the marriage of former secretary of defense William Cohen, who's white, and former Boston television personality Janet Langhart, who's black.

Last October, WEEI Radio (AM 850), after initially trying to ride it out, suspended John Dennis and Gerry Callahan for two weeks after they jokingly referred to a gorilla that had escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo as a "Metco gorilla." Metco is a program that lets urban African-American kids attend public schools in the suburbs.

Two months before that, one of 'EEI's sister stations, WRKO Radio (AM 680), parted company with John "Ozone" Osterlind after Osterlind allegedly called for the "eradication" of the Palestinian people on the air. (At the time of his departure, Osterlind disputed what happened, and a complete tape of his offending remarks has never surfaced. And a disclosure: WRKO pays me to talk about the media on The Pat Whitley Show every Friday at 9 a.m.)

All this is only tangentially tied to the uproar over indecency. That, after all, only dates back to the Super Bowl. Rather, what all of these local incidents have in common is that they involve ugly joking, or even hate speech, about race, ethnicity, and/or religion. Such a thing would have been unheard of - literally - 10 years ago, but it has become a staple as corporate-owned radio chains have continued their downward spiral.

I suspect that Severin will slide by with an apology, and that he'll be able to claim his remarks were made within an entirely political context. In any event, stay tuned.

posted at 9:24 AM | comment or permalink


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

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