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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, May 14, 2004

CONFUSION AND INCOMPETENCE. Boston Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund gets a B-minus today for her assessment of what went wrong with those hardcore porn pictures that made their way into the Globe on Wednesday. The photos were promoted by Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and local activist Sadiki Kambon as possibly depicting US soldiers raping Iraqi women.

Chinlund is utterly believable in describing the comedy of errors that led to a photo's being published in which the porn pictures were visible. In newsrooms, as in life, whenever a mistake can be explained in terms of confusion and incompetence rather than malicious intent, go with confusion and incompetence.

It remains inexplicable how or why Globe editors, once they realized they had a problem, decided merely to shrink the photo rather than pull it altogether. Yes, shrinking did make the porn more difficult to see, but come on folks. Get it out of there. Chinlund writes:

First edition carried the Page B2 photo three columns wide - big enough to make out the roughly 1-inch square sexual images within it. In later editions it was made smaller at the request of Michael Larkin, a deputy managing editor, who said that although he could not discern the sexual images on the page proof he viewed, he wanted to play it safe, given the story's content.

Play it safe? Playing with fire is more like it.

Where Chinlund falls short is in her narrowly stubborn insistence that because she couldn't find the porn photos on the Internet, she can't verify that Turner and Kambon were indeed passing off porn shots as evidence of American atrocities:

Various sources last week said the photos displayed by Turner came from a pornography website, and they may well have, although I could not trace it to the source. I did find one news website with a note from a woman identified as the porn site operator. She was quoted as saying the images, shot in Hungary, had been removed because they were used for anti-American purposes.

This morning I did my regular Friday-morning stint on The Pat Whitley Show, on WRKO Radio (AM 680). Whitley and his producer, Amy Hirshberg, told me that on Wednesday, when they were first alerted to the Globe's miscue, they were able to find the photos on a porn site within minutes. Since then, they said, the site has been taken down.

Chinlund also fails to acknowledge that Sherrie Gossett has done some very credible reporting on the origin of these photos for In fact, a Globe editorial today blasting Turner for his "reckless and inflammatory" actions is better on this score, forthrightly stating, "Turner's photos appear to match ones found on a pornographic website."

In the Boston Herald, columnist Cosmo Macero today criticizes (sub. req.) the Globe for reporting on Turner and Kambon's news conference, noting that other journalists who attended the conference decided it wasn't worthy of public attention. Macero observes that the article written by the Globe reporter who covered the news conference, Donovan Slack, was "loaded ... with expressed doubts about the photos' authenticity."

The Globe certainly could have chosen not to run the story. Maybe that would have been a better decision than the one its editors made. But Slack's story wasn't the problem. Metro editor Carolyn Ryan told Chinlund, "Our intent ... was to bring some scrutiny to allegations" that Turner had made, "specifically his claims that he had evidence of extensive abuse committed by US soldiers." Slack's story succeeded in doing that.

Unfortunately, as Chinlund notes, the photo not only became the story, but it also cast Slack's report in a "less skeptical" light.

By the way, the Wall Street Journal's "Best of the Web" site leads with the Globe controversy, and relies heavily on Media Log's running coverage. So please check it out.

And barring any further developments, that's a wrap.

posted at 11:19 AM | comment or permalink

Thursday, May 13, 2004

THE FALLOUT CONTINUES. Former Marine major Cecil Turner writes:


If anything, you're being too kind to Turner, Kambon, and the Globe.

More than a week ago, someone tried to peddle those pictures on Roger L. Simon's blog, and it was immediately debunked. A casual glance at the photos shows out-of-date and mismatched uniforms, improperly worn, wrong color t-shirt and boots, and lack of unit patches. Even without knowing about the porn site, there is no way this should have stood for a minute.

Turner's "just wanted to get verification" story is nonsense - and certainly wouldn't require a press conference. The technique of proffering a slanderous statement and hoping something will stick was old when practiced by Roman senators, and the Globe should never have fallen for it. The real story here is that Nation of Islam is spreading Islamist propaganda - and it certainly appears to be intentional.


Cecil Turner
Major, USMC (Retired)

Also, in my quick update this morning, I neglected to note that the Globe failed to include some pretty vital information in its "Editor's Note" today - or, for that matter, anywhere else in the paper: the fact that these photos had been exposed as fakes quite a bit before Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and local activist Sadiki Kambon unveiled them at a news conference on Tuesday.

Yes, reporter Donovan Slack's story was properly skeptical, but if either she or her editors had known that the photos had already been identified as having come from commercial porn sites, this never would have seen the light of day. Those who hadn't been following the tale of the fake rape photos on the Internet would have had to buy today's Herald to find out the whole story.

Chuck Turner popped up on The Pat Whitley Show on WRKO Radio (AM 680) this morning and continued to peddle the line that he never wanted the media to publish the photos, just verify their authenticity. He called the Globe's decision to publish the photos a "serious mistake," and said he was "shocked and surprised." (Time out: the Globe didn't "publish" the photos; it published a photo of Turner and Kambon showing the pictures to the media. I still think that's an important distinction, because in the edition I saw yesterday, the images were so tiny that I really couldn't make them out. Still, there's no question that the Globe ran it big enough to shock in earlier editions.)

What crapola. You don't call a news conference to release photos that you don't want published. You don't say - as the Globe quoted Turner as saying - "The American people have a right and responsibility to see the pictures."

Here is the text of a press release sent out on Monday by Kambon's organization, the Black Community Information Center:

Release of US Military rape photographs in Iraq!!!

Assignment Desk/City Desk:

The Black Community Information Center Inc. will hold a press conference on Tuesday, May 11th, 2004, 9:30 a.m. The purpose of the press conference is to release copies of dramatic photos of members of the US Military, gang raping innocent Iraqi women in Iraq.

The press conference will be held in the Curley Room at Boston City Hall (5th Floor) in downtown Boston, Massachusetts.

For more information, call [phone numbers deleted].

Sadiki Kambon
Director, BCIC Inc.

Now, it's true that at the news conference Turner asked the media to use their contacts to authenticate the photos. But the tone of this press release admits to no doubt whatsoever, does it?

posted at 11:12 AM | comment or permalink

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Jessica Lynch and Lynndie England - the damsel in distress and the castrating bitch - symbolize our shifting perceptions of the war in Iraq.

posted at 7:40 AM | comment or permalink

THEY KNEW. BUT THEY PRINTED IT ANYWAY. That's the only interpretation I can put on an "Editor's Note" in today's Boston Globe apologizing for the publication of a photo showing pornographic depictions of rape. Here's the note:

A photograph on Page B2 yesterday did not meet Globe standards for publication. The photo portrayed Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and activist Sadiki Kambon displaying graphic photographs that they claimed showed US soldiers raping Iraqi women. Although the photograph was reduced in size between editions to obscure visibility of the images on display, at no time did the photograph meet Globe standards. Images contained in the photograph were overly graphic, and the purported abuse portrayed had not been authenticated. The Globe apologizes for publishing the photo.

In other words, at some point editors realized the pictures that Turner and Kambon were showing off were too graphic to be published - but rather than remove the photo altogether, they simply shrunk it down and hoped no one would notice.

This isn't good. For crying out loud, this is a paper that killed Doonesbury a couple of weeks ago because B.D. shouted out "son of a bitch!" after he learned that his leg had been blown off. What are these people thinking?

I do believe it's ombudsman Christine Chinlund's week to write this coming Monday.

Meanwhile, the Boston Herald is having fun with this today. Inevitably, the tabloid reports that the Globe is "reeling" from the mistake (how does one reel?), and points out that the photos obtained by Kambon had already been exposed by the website as porn shots being passed off as evidence of American atrocities. The Herald quotes a statement from Globe editor Martin Baron:

"This photo should not have appeared in the Globe," editor Martin Baron said in a statement. "First, images portrayed in the photo were overly graphic. Second, as the story clearly pointed out, those images were never authenticated as photos of prisoner abuse. There was a lapse in judgment and procedures, and we apologize for it."

The story also recycles some of Globe reporter Donovan Slack's very candid quotes to WorldNetDaily.

An unusually long Herald editorial, headlined "Prouder Than Ever to Be an American," includes this swipe: "It's a nation where that daughter puts herself in harm's way to protect the freedom of the press which allows Boston Globe editors to run bogus photographs of American soldiers raping Iraqi women."

Not a proud moment for the folks on Morrissey Boulevard.

posted at 7:38 AM | comment or permalink

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

MORE ON THOSE FAKE RAPE PHOTOS. This is going to be a bigger story than I thought. (Hardly the first time that's happened!) Matt Drudge has posted an image from an earlier edition of today's Boston Globe in which the photo of the fake pictures of American soldiers raping Iraqi women was run bigger - big enough so that their graphic nature is more evident, even to my aging eyes - and in which the headline ended with "Photos Purported to Show Abuse," a rather different spin from "Councilor Takes Up Iraq Issue."

Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr was going nuts on his WRKO (AM 680) talk show this afternoon, repeatedly accusing the Globe of "libeling" American soldiers. Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner called in and declined Carr's invitation to apologize. I wasn't rolling tape, but essentially Turner said that he didn't want the press to publish the photos, he simply wanted news organizations to attempt to verify their authenticity.

Of course, that completely contradicts this Turner quote in the Globe story: "The American people have a right and responsibility to see the pictures." But never mind.

Word is that the Herald's "Inside Track" is going after the Globe tomorrow morning. Tomorrow is also Mike Barnicle's turn to write. Will he resist the urge to pile on his former employer?

Now, huffing and puffing aside, I still think the two most important facts are these:

1. Donovan Slack's story is completely legitimate, making it clear that there was no way of authenticating the photos that Turner and community activist Sadiki Kambon showed the media, and even raising the possibility that it was all an Internet fraud - as it indeed turned out to be. You could argue that the Globe shouldn't have run the story, but a newspaper does not have to defend covering a City Hall news conference called by a well-known elected official. The issue is how the Globe covered it, and in that regard, there is no issue. Carr himself admitted as much on the air today.

2. Which brings us to the George Rizer photo of Turner and Kambon showing those fake images to the media. I'll wait to see what the Globe says tomorrow, but I'm willing to bet that no one even looked at those tiny images - that the subjects of the photo were Turner and Kambon, and that that's as far as anyone thought things through. Obviously the Globe blew it, but there's no way anyone in that newsroom deliberately ran photos of a gang rape.

posted at 8:27 PM | comment or permalink

MORE FOOLISHNESS FROM TURNER AND KAMBON. An alert reader urged me to check out Margery Eagan's April 8 column in the Boston Herald. The subject: national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. The speakers: City Councilor Chuck Turner and local activist Sadiki Kambon.

Turner was quoted as saying that Rice isn't concerned "about the plight of the majority" of African-Americans. Okay, she's a foreign-policy wonk, not a domestic-policy analyst. But then Turner added that Rice is a "tool to white leaders.... It's similar in my mind to a Jewish person working for Hitler in the 1930s." Say what?

Kambon, naturally, was even more outrageous, calling her "Condoleezza White Rice" and "The Negro Security Adviser."

posted at 3:34 PM | comment or permalink

CHUCK TURNER, IRAQI RAPE ALLEGATIONS, AND THE GLOBE. The right-wing website is having a wicked good time over an apparent fraud perpetrated on (by?) Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner and African-American activist Sadiki Kambon, and reported in today's Boston Globe.

At a City Hall news conference yesterday morning, Turner and Kambon showed photos that they claimed depicted American soldiers raping Iraqi women. "The American people have a right and responsibility to see the pictures," Turner was quoted as saying.

Today, Sherrie Gossett writes in that the photos are identical to pictures "taken from pornographic websites and disseminated by anti-American propagandists," a story that she's been reporting on in recent days.

Gossett also writes that today's Globe "came complete with graphic photos" of the alleged gang rape. But that's not quite right. The Globe story, by Donovan Slack, is accompanied by a photo by George Rizer of Turner and Kambon displaying four of the pictures for the benefit of journalists who'd come to the news conference. The pictures look like they might be graphic, but it's hard to tell given the size and the angle. Still, I'm sure Globe editors wish they hadn't run Rizer's photo.

Gossett includes some extremely entertaining quotes from Slack:

Asked whether the photos were the same as the porn photos WND already investigated, reporter Donovan Slack said, "I have no idea. I'm surprised the editor even decided we should write about it."

She added: "Oh my God, I'm scared to answer the phone today."

"It's insane," said Slack. "Can you imagine getting this with your cup of coffee in the morning? Somehow it got through all our checks. Our publisher's not having a very good day today."

Slack sent the photos to WND, which immediately confirmed they were the same porn photos reported on last week.

Slack quipped, "I'll be working at Penthouse soon."

The photos aside, Slack's story sounds all the right notes of skepticism. She quotes a spokesman for the Defense Department as saying, "I would caution that there are many fake photos circulating on the Internet." She also notes that the Nation of Islam, which purportedly supplied the photos to Kambon, would not verify their authenticity. Turner told reporters, "We cannot document their authenticity. But you have the ability to do that."

Nor did the Globe give this story a lot of play. It's a short piece on page B2, beneath the bland headline "Councilor Takes Up Iraq Issue." The subhead, "Turner Releases Purported Images of Rape by Soldiers," reinforces the notion that the story is about a city councilor speaking out more than it is about the subject of his outrage.

Now, I'm sure the Globe will be publishing some sort of statement, maybe as early as tomorrow. But the person who really has something to answer for is Chuck Turner. Kambon is Kambon. No one would take seriously the notion that photos of Iraqis being abused by American soldiers would somehow fall into his hands.

But Turner is a prominent elected official who lent both his good name and the imprimatur of City Hall to this fiasco. Without Turner, this story never would have been reported.

posted at 2:54 PM | comment or permalink

THE TERRIBLE DEATH OF NICHOLAS BERG. Okay, I've seen the video. Good Lord, what a horrible, undeserved death Nicholas Berg suffered at the hands of terrorists in Iraq. A website I'd been directed to couldn't make the connection, but it took me no more than a few minutes to locate and download a copy with LimeWire. Such is the modern media environment. I have nothing profound to say about this horrific act. A few random observations:

- Berg's family is probably right that their son was singled out for execution because he's Jewish. An odd wrinkle, though, is that his killers apparently said nothing about Berg's being a Jew on the five-minute-plus videotape. By contrast, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was beheaded by terrorists, their propaganda video dwelled at length on Pearl's Jewish background.

- When CBS News aired the non-gruesome parts of the Pearl video two years ago, it was widely criticized. When the Phoenix posted a link to the entire video, and published two small images, including Pearl's severed head, in its print edition, it set off a nationwide controversy. By contrast, the pre-execution portions of the Berg video have already been widely aired. At least one rather mainstream website, based in Arizona, has already posted the entire video. And pro-war radio talk-show hosts this morning are demanding that the major networks air the video, under the guise of reminding Americans of why we're fighting. Why the difference? I've always believed the media showed unusual deference to Pearl's family - far more than they would under most circumstances - because Pearl was a fellow journalist. More important, sadly, is that we've all become increasingly desensitized after nearly three years of constant war.

- Unlike the Pearl video, which was a pretty unambiguous portrayal of Islamist terrorism, the meaning of the Berg video depends entirely on one's preconceived notions about the war in Iraq. Supporters of the war will argue that it shows why we must keep on fighting. Opponents will counter that it's further proof we shouldn't be in Iraq in the first place. As for those who say - as the terrorists themselves claimed - that it was in direct response to the abuses and torture at Abu Ghraib, I'm with CNN's Aaron Brown, who said last night, "The fact is these guys never need a reason to kill Americans, hostages or otherwise. If it is in their interest, and it is sick to think that killing an American in Iraq is in anyone's interest, but if it is they would have done it anyway. Danny Pearl was murdered and what exactly was the reason for that?"

posted at 11:04 AM | comment or permalink

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

THE ROYAL "WE." David Brooks is no more responsible for the quagmire in Iraq than Andrew Sullivan is. Still, it's interesting to see how the New York Times columnist takes (that is, doesn't take) responsibility for his failure to think things through as opposed to the blogger/essayist's squarely wrestling with his conscience.

Sullivan's lamentations, which I flagged yesterday, were filled with the first person singular. By contrast, here is an emblematic passage from Brooks's column this morning:

We were so sure we were using our might for noble purposes, we assumed that sooner or later, everybody else would see that as well. Far from being blinded by greed, we were blinded by idealism.


We didn't understand the tragic irony that our power is also our weakness. As long as we seemed so mighty, others, even those we were aiming to assist, were bound to revolt.

As Tonto explained to the Lone Ranger, "Who's 'we,' Kemosabe?"

DRIVING US AWAY. You could look it up (I don't feel like it), but Media Log has predicted on at least several occasions that this July's Democratic National Convention will be a five-alarm disaster for anyone who lives in, works in, or even thinks about Boston.

Yet now that Anthony Flint is reporting in today's Boston Globe that operations to shut down I-93 each day will begin as early as 4 p.m., I'm ready to make a counterintuitive prediction. I now think everyone has been so thoroughly freaked out by months of apocalyptic scenarios (can I take just a little bit of credit?) that everyone is going to take the week off and the locals are going to barricade themselves inside their homes.

Media Log's newest prediction: this is going to be the easiest week for driving around the city since just after the invention of the automobile.

posted at 7:30 AM | comment or permalink

Monday, May 10, 2004


The one anti-war argument that, in retrospect, I did not take seriously enough was a simple one. It was that this war was noble and defensible but that this administration was simply too incompetent and arrogant to carry it out effectively. I dismissed this as facile Bush-bashing at the time. I was wrong. I sensed the hubris of this administration after the fall of Baghdad, but I didn't sense how they would grotesquely under-man the post-war occupation, bungle the maintenance of security, short-change an absolutely vital mission, dismiss constructive criticism, ignore even their allies (like the Brits), and fail to shift swiftly enough when events span out of control.

No chortling here. This is a monumental tragedy. I opposed the war from the beginning, but always thought that the reasons to go to war were good ones - not WMDs (remember, the UN weapons inspectors were just starting to gear up) and the non-existent ties to Al Qaeda, but the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe caused by Saddam Hussein's Hitlerian regime, compounded by more than a decade of Western sanctions.

If Bush had only taken the time and shown the patience to build a genuine international coalition, things might look very different today.

posted at 10:07 AM | comment or permalink

GOOD RUMMY, BAD RUMMY. From William Safire's New York Times column today:

Shortly after 9/11, with the nation gripped by fear and fury, the Bush White House issued a sweeping and popular order to crack down on suspected terrorists. The liberal establishment largely fell cravenly mute. A few lonely civil libertarians spoke out. When I used the word "dictatorial," conservatives, both neo- and paleo-, derided my condemnation as "hysterical."

One Bush cabinet member paid attention. [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld appointed a bipartisan panel of attorneys to re-examine that draconian edict. As a result, basic protections for the accused Qaeda combatants were included in the proposed military tribunals.

Perhaps because of those protections, the tribunals never got off the ground. (The Supreme Court will soon, I hope, provide similar legal rights to suspected terrorists who are U.S. citizens.) But in the panic of the winter of 2001, Rumsfeld was one of the few in power concerned about prisoners' rights. Some now demanding his scalp then supported the repressive Patriot Act.

From Seymour Hersh's latest, in this week's New Yorker:

The Pentagon's impatience with military protocol extended to questions about the treatment of prisoners caught in the course of its military operations. Soon after 9/11, as the war on terror got under way, Donald Rumsfeld repeatedly made public his disdain for the Geneva conventions. Complaints about America's treatment of prisoners, Rumsfeld said in early 2002, amounted to "isolated pockets of international hyperventilation."

Safire is a serious civil libertarian who doesn't mind whacking his fellow conservatives, so his observations about the Good Rummy can't be dismissed lightly. But it's pretty obvious that Rumsfeld's occasional good deeds have been overwhelmed by his disdain for anyone and anything that interfered with his ability to do what he damn well pleased.

CREDENTIALS? THEY DON'T NEED NO STINKING CREDENTIALS! Joanna Weiss reports in today's Boston Globe on the Democratic National Committee's plan to issue press credentials to some bloggers. There's a numbers game going on, and apparently not everyone who wants credentials will get them.

This isn't going to matter to establishment types. For instance, Weiss mentions Josh Marshall, who writes Talking Points Memo; but Marshall's got nothing to be concerned about, since he also writes a column for the Hill, a print publication. (Media Log plans to be at the convention as well, blogging and also reporting for the print edition of the Phoenix.)

Bloggers have just as much of a right to be there as anyone else. Particularly out of it is Jerry Gallegos, head of the House Press Gallery, who told Weiss, "Anyone with a computer and home publishing can call themselves whatever they want. If it's a retired couple that just decides they've got an opinion, that doesn't make them a news organization. It just makes them a retired couple with an opinion and a website." Yeah, but Grandma and Grandpa might just be kicking the ass of the hometown daily to which Gallegos would issue credentials without a question.

Still, there's some serious naïveté on the part of bloggers if they think credentials are going to do much for them. There are lots of great stories at conventions, but very few of them take place inside the convention hall. Even fully credentialed mainstream journalists are only rarely able to gain access to the floor - not that there's any great thrill in that other than to be able to say you were there. Mainly you wander the building checking out the news-org set-ups and looking for interesting people to talk to.

Outside is another story, and it strikes me that that's where bloggers could do their most important work: at the protests, at the parties, panels, and seminars, and at the numerous events that will be staged by those trying to get their message out. I'm not aware of anything being planned that's as cool as the "shadow conventions" Arianna Huffington put together in Philadelphia and Los Angeles four years ago, but certainly something - no doubt many somethings - will pop up.

Here's a dirty little secret: even credentialed reporters inside the hall watch the convention on television. So bloggers ought not to worry about credentials and bring their laptops to Boston. They'll have plenty to write about.

posted at 9:12 AM | comment or permalink


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

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