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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, May 07, 2004

REAL TROUBLE AT AIR AMERICA. Turmoil is one thing, not meeting payroll is quite another. The Chicago Tribune reports that two more top-level executives are leaving Air America Radio, adding, "The company also failed to make its scheduled payroll Wednesday, leaving its staff of roughly 100 radio personalities, writers, and producers unpaid until Thursday."

Question: how could the Air America people be in this much trouble after only five weeks? This was always a long shot, but they did seem to have money and brains. Well, it sounds like the money's hard to find, and the brains are leaving. The story concludes:

Last week, according to two sources familiar with the matter, paychecks to some of the network's talent - a group that includes Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, and Randi Rhodes - bounced, and Rhodes joked on the air about not being paid.

A scheduled payday for the staff on Wednesday came and went without checks, though the staff was paid on Thursday. [President-of-the-week Jon] Sinton chalked up both cases to "technical issues."

Technical issues? It's possible. I suppose.

CHANDLER TO CARR: SHUT UP. Boston Globe Steve Bailey weighs in on the battle between Boston Herald columnists Howie Carr and Mike Barnicle, which I wrote about yesterday. Herald editorial director Ken Chandler tells Bailey: "I am not going to tolerate people on the Herald payroll sniping at each other in print."

Chandler says nothing about Barnicle's writing a valentine to House Speaker Tom Finneran without disclosing that his wife, FleetBoston executive vice-president Anne Finucane, had made a $500 campaign contribution to Mister Speaker (Carr's allegation, unverified by Media Log).

posted at 2:12 PM | comment or permalink

Thursday, May 06, 2004

BATTLE OF THE SNAKES. In case you missed it, there has been some excellent eye-boinking going on in the pages of the Boston Herald between columnists Howie Carr and Mike Barnicle. I would say there's tension in the newsroom, except that both specialize in making themselves as scarce as possible. (Neither one is a full-time staffer.)

On April 29, Barnicle wrote (sub. req.) his first recognizably Barnicle-like column since his return to the Boston newspaper wars earlier this year. That is, he penned a shameless suck-up piece about House Speaker Tom Finneran, currently under investigation for his testimony in a court case over redistricting, testimony that may have been just a tad disingenuous.

My favorite Barnicle line: "When he [Finneran] arrived in the Legislature, the witch at the public stake was Kevin Harrington, the Senate president who got hounded out over a signature on a campaign check." Poor Kevin Harrington! As with a lot of what Barnicle writes, this is technically true, but it ignores the fact that a signature on a campaign check can be a serious matter depending on whose signature you're talking about, and whether the person to whom it belongs has any recollection of ever having written it on said check. On course, a lot of what Barnicle has written over the years isn't true, technically or otherwise.

For good measure, Barnicle compared Finneran to Ted Williams, Eric Clapton, and Michelangelo. Hand me the barf bag.

Carr, who's been referring to himself on his WRKO Radio (AM 680) show as the Herald's "non-fiction columnist" since the Barnicle comeback, lashed back (sub. req.) yesterday with a tough column on the friends of "Tommy Taxes" - the lobbyists, the ex-pols, and others who have showered Finneran with so many campaign contributions that he had nearly $500,000 in the till at the end of last year.

Carr also drops this bomblet:

It's astounding that with friends like these, Tommy Taxes could be teetering on the edge of an indictment. He's even had press vermin penning fiction about what a swell guy he is, and guess what - the pipe artist's wife maxed out to Tommy Taxes with a $500 contribution. Odd that the hack forgot to mention his wife's largesse in his piece.

That, of course, is a reference to Barnicle's wife, Anne Finucane, an executive vice-president at FleetBoston Financial and perhaps the most powerful woman in town.

Now, I don't want to go overboard in praise of the sneering Carr. To say that Finneran is "on the edge of an indictment" is a bit like saying that George W. Bush is on the edge of impeachment. That is, some of us might wish it to be true, but there is no evidence for it.

But if this is to be a battle of the snakes, my snake is Howie. Scales down.

TODAY'S TORTURE HIGHLIGHTS. I can't find more than a fragmentary mention this morning of an allegation that an American soldier put a harness on a 70-year-old Iraqi woman and rode her like a donkey. Andrew Miga includes a reference in his Boston Herald roundup. This, obviously, bears watching.

The Washington Post has obtained more photos from Abu Ghraib.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, a liberal supporter of the war in Iraq, calls for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to resign.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Stuck in neutral: Democrats fret as John Kerry's presidential campaign falters in the face of George W. Bush's $50 million assault.

posted at 9:13 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

MEDIA CONSOLIDATION IN THEORY AND IN PRACTICE. The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg reports today that Disney is trying to renege on a deal to distribute Michael Moore's latest documentary, Fahrenheit 911, which "harshly criticizes President Bush." The deal between Disney's Miramax division and Moore was blasted by right-wingers at the time that it was announced last year. Example: this screed at FrontPageMag.com.

So what happened between then and now? According to Rutenberg's piece, it appears to be a matter of one hand not knowing how much cash the other hand was hauling in. He writes:

Mr. Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, said Michael D. Eisner, Disney's chief executive, asked him last spring to pull out of the deal with Miramax. Mr. Emanuel said Mr. Eisner expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.

Eisner denies the allegation.

Still, this is sleazy, reprehensible stuff, just one step short of dictating to ABC News what sorts of stories it may or may not cover based on Disney's corporate interests. Moore does not enjoy a great reputation for accuracy, but this isn't about journalism, it's about business. Eisner ought to be ashamed of himself, but I suspect that's not an option.

ATROCITIES REDUX. To listen to John O'Neill and his merry band of Kerry-bashing veterans, you'd think that atrocities never took place during the Vietnam War. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal, O'Neill wrote:

John Kerry slandered America's military by inventing or repeating grossly exaggerated claims of atrocities and war crimes in order to advance his own political career as an antiwar activist. His misrepresentations played a significant role in creating the negative and false image of Vietnam vets that has persisted for over three decades.


During my 1971 televised debate with John Kerry, I accused him of lying. I urged him to come forth with affidavits from the soldiers who had claimed to have committed or witnessed atrocities. To date no such affidavits have been filed.

Michael Kranish reports in today's Boston Globe on yesterday's news conference by the anti-Kerry Swift Veterans for Truth.

What everyone seems to have forgotten is that, last month, the Toledo Blade won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigative reporting into atrocities committed by US troops in Vietnam in the late 1960s. The Blade found that "[w]omen and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers. Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed - their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings."

Atrocities did occur. Kerry knew it when he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971, and the Blade filled in many of the details 32 years later. Given the horrors of Abu Ghuraib, denial of past abuses is not a moral option.

LEHIGH BLASTS SEVERIN. The Globe's Scot Lehigh has written two fine columns on Jay Severin, the "towelhead"-bashing talk-show host at WTKK Radio (96.9 FM). Here's today's; here's last Friday's.

Here's my take on Severin, from last Thursday's Phoenix.

posted at 9:38 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

THE HORROR, CONT'D. Likely to become a Media Log standing head in the days to come. Reuters is now reporting that two Iraqi prisoners in US custody may have been murdered - one by an Army soldier, the other by a private contractor hired by the CIA.

The English-language website of Al-Jazeera gives an indication of how the Abu Ghuraib story is playing in Arab and Muslim countries. This is from a story headlined "Abu Ghuraib Prisoners Speak of 'Torture'":

One of the released detainees who was forced to pose naked in a human pyramid has told Aljazeera that the acts committed against them were so horrible that he still could not get himself to speak about most of it.

"They wanted to humiliate us. It was disgusting", said Hashim Muhsin.

"They covered our heads with plastic bags and hit our backs with sharp objects, which added to our wounds".

"They then took off all our clothes, made us stand next to the wall and carried out immoral acts that I cannot even talk about", Muhsin continued.

He said "women soldiers took pictures of naked men and did not care".

The New York Times website reports that Democratic senator Tom Daschle and Republican senator John McCain are demanding that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld be held accountable. Rumsfeld is reported to be "deeply disturbed." Senator Ted Kennedy is quoted as saying:

We have a great sense of revulsion, not only because of these actions, but we also recognize what the dangers are for American troops if they are ever taken prisoners and the kind of treatment that they would be subject to. And this has been a major setback to our interests in that region.

Meanwhile, Josh Marshall notes that George W. Bush still hasn't apparently bothered to read the Taguba report. Marshall's headline: "Shaken, but Apparently Not Stirred."

posted at 4:20 PM | comment or permalink

Monday, May 03, 2004

WHAT DID MENINO SAY? On Sunday, the Boston Globe's Rick Klein reported that Boston mayor Tom Menino might ignore Governor Mitt Romney's orders to verify the residency of same-sex couples seeking to marry. Klein quoted Menino as saying, "There is a good chance I might defy the governor, but we're still looking at our options. It's about civil rights. It's about uniting people. It's about showing that we don't discriminate in the city of Boston."

Today, the Boston Herald's Brian Ballou has a similar story that includes this:

Menino disputed a published report that he said he may defy the governor and instruct city officials not to ask for proof of residency from same-sex couples seeking to get married.

"I never said that," he said.

Media Log awaits clarification, but in the meantime I'll hazard a guess: "I never said that" can be translated as "I shouldn't have said that" or possibly "I said it, but it isn't quite what I meant."

posted at 10:46 AM | comment or permalink

THE HORROR. Thirty-four years ago Seymour Hersh won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing atrocities committed by American soldiers in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. Today he's front-and-center on another horror story involving US forces - this one involving the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Saddam Hussein's former torture center.

The details of the story were first reported last week by CBS's 60 Minutes II. Hersh has additional information in the current New Yorker on the conclusions of an investigation conducted by General Antonio Taguba. This is sickening, disgusting stuff - Iraqi prisoners forced to strip naked and simulate sex with each other, raped with broom sticks, ordered to masturbate in front of female American soldiers.

Was it an isolated event? Not likely. Hersh writes:

As the international furor grew, senior military officers, and President Bush, insisted that the actions of a few did not reflect the conduct of the military as a whole. Taguba's report, however, amounts to an unsparing study of collective wrongdoing and the failure of Army leadership at the highest levels. The picture he draws of Abu Ghraib is one in which Army regulations and the Geneva conventions were routinely violated, and in which much of the day-to-day management of the prisoners was abdicated to Army military-intelligence units and civilian contract employees. Interrogating prisoners and getting intelligence, including by intimidation and torture, was the priority.

The New Yorker's website also includes 10 photos of the torture taking place. Sadly, the Americans depicted in these photos are obviously enjoying themselves.

So how many future terrorists have we created? Hersh again:

Such dehumanization is unacceptable in any culture, but it is especially so in the Arab world. Homosexual acts are against Islamic law and it is humiliating for men to be naked in front of other men, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at New York University, explained. "Being put on top of each other and forced to masturbate, being naked in front of each other - it's all a form of torture," Haykel said.

A New York Times editorial today also takes note of reports that British soldiers, too, have tortured Iraqi prisoners. The editorial concludes:

Terrorists like Osama bin Laden have always intended to use their violence to prod the United States and its allies into demonstrating that their worst anti-American propaganda was true. Abu Ghraib was an enormous victory for them, and it is unlikely that any response by the Bush administration will wipe its stain from the minds of Arabs. The invasion of Iraq, which has already begun to seem like a bad dream in so many ways, cannot get much more nightmarish than this.

Liberal supporters of the war in Iraq such as Times columnist Thomas Friedman have argued that the war was justified because we needed to puncture the bubble of Arab-American terrorism by building a decent, stable society in the heart of the Middle East. It's a seductive proposition.

But as the horrors of Abu Ghraib show, Tom Friedman was not in charge of the war; and in any event, war against and occupation of a country that was no threat to us is no way to achieve some idealistic vision of American-imposed democracy.

The world can be a pretty ugly place. The White House utopian dreams have made it quite a bit uglier.

posted at 9:22 AM | comment or permalink


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

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