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Serving the reality-based community since 2002.

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

Thursday, December 30, 2004

FRANKS TALK. I started fact-checking Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby's annual column on "liberal hate speech" this morning, but stopped after I satisfied myself that he had not taken Walter Cronkite or Bill Moyers out of context. Oh, my. What were they thinking?

Still, I couldn't help but be struck by how pallid Jacoby's examples were compared to, say, George W. Bush's attaboy to the guy at one of his campaign rallies who accused John Kerry of faking his war wounds, or Dick Cheney's insinuation that a vote for Kerry was a vote for Osama bin Laden.

But never mind. Here's what I really wish Jacoby hadn't left out. At one point he criticizes liberal Republican Colin Powell for saying that Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith was running a "Gestapo office." Jeff! Why didn't you also quote conservative Republican Tommy Franks, who called Feith "the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth"?

Talk about lost opportunities.

DISSECTOR SIGHTING. The New York Times has a nice profile today of Danny Schechter on the occasion of his new documentary, (WMD) Weapons of Mass Deception. Is Danny really 62? I think that may be a typo. I quote Danny in my story this week on podcasting (below). In case you haven't discovered his blog, here it is.

MEDIA LOG ON CNN. I'll be appearing on CNN's Reliable Sources this Sunday at 11:30 a.m. with bloggers Andrew Sullivan and Ana Marie Cox.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. A look at podcasting - downloadable radio for your iPod or other MP3 player - that promises to be one of the big media trends of 2005, and that could pose the most significant threat to commercial radio since the advent of television.

posted at 9:58 AM | 8 comments | link

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

THE WORST BUSH. Tom "Don't Call Me Thomas" Frank has a useful corrective to nostalgia for George H.W. Bush on the New Republic's website. But Frank gets carried away, arguing - believe it or not - that Bush the father was actually a worse president than the current occupant of the White House.

It's too bad Frank's piece is available only to subscribers (click here to read it if you're a paying customer), because Frank's thesis deserves better than hit-or-miss summary. Although let me take a simplistic swipe anyway: anyone who tries to argue that Bush I was worse than Bush II because the former pushed a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning, as Frank does, really needs to take another look at Alberto Gonzales's torture memos. At the very least.

Frank also omits entirely one of Bush I's signal accomplishments: the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, evidence that Bush's Yankee Republican impulses were not entirely dead. I don't doubt that someone will e-mail me that Bush had little to do with the ADA. I don't care. He supported it and he signed it. Bush II has given the ADA lip service, but today's Republican Party would just as soon get rid of it. Indeed, in 2001 our only president nominated to a federal judgeship a man who'd said the ADA was "not needed."

But Frank reserves the bulk of his essay for Iraq, tying himself into knots in attempting to show that Bush I's largely successful intervention to liberate Kuwait was, in fact, a bigger disaster than Bush II's current war. Frank builds his case mainly around Bush I's outspoken support for Iraq's Kurds and Shiites to rebel against Saddam Hussein in 1991, which led to slaughter after Bush refused to back up his words with force. He writes:

[W]hat is worse: telling the world that you are sure about WMD when you are only pretty sure - or telling a group of people that you support their efforts to rebel and then standing by as they get killed? Killing thousands in an attempt bring democracy to a brutal dictatorship - or allowing many thousands more to be killed in the name of holding together a coalition and maintaining regional stability by preserving a brutal dictatorship? If we are ashamed of the actions Dubya has taken in our name, why are we not even more ashamed of the actions Poppy took in our name?

Oh, come now. Bush I engaged in amoral realpolitik, and for that he deserves some criticism. But was it a bad thing that the Kurds and the Shiites rebelled? Did anyone really think we were going to rush in and support them? There was every reason to think the rebellion might have succeeded; it failed, as Frank himself notes, because the Iraqi army turned its guns on the rebels rather than on Saddam. Tragic as it was, these things happen, and it's hardly a reason that Bush I shouldn't have encouraged a coup. Bush II, on the other hand, is merely responsible for the single worst foreign-policy debacle since Vietnam, maybe even including Vietnam. Bush I's cynicism enhanced our alliances with the world community. Bush II's idealism has destroyed those alliances.

Frank does concede that he's got a difficult case to make. At one point he writes of Bush II:

Perhaps torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib wasn't such a brilliant idea. Perhaps deceiving the public on the grounds for war and squandering the nation's credibility for at least a generation will be judged to have been impulsive. And perhaps we'd be better off not having gone into Iraq, even if it meant that Saddam held power still. America would probably be financially healthier and less hated abroad, 1,300 Americans would still be alive, and 10,000 more would have been spared devastating injuries.

Well, duh.

Here is Frank's mistake. He starts out criticizing pundits like Thomas Friedman and Fareed Zakaria for building up Bush I as a way of tearing down Bush II. In the end, though, Frank does just the opposite, building up Bush II as a way of making the case against Bush I. He does it sort of half-heartedly; he acknowledges that Bush II has some shortcomings, to put it mildly. But there you go.

It's really pretty simple. Both Bushes, father and son, were and are lousy presidents. But the son is worse - much worse. Is there really any doubt about that?

posted at 2:43 PM | 5 comments | link

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

SUFFER THE CHILDREN? There are no victims of the earthquake more heartbreaking than the children. The lead photo in this morning's New York Times is particularly wrenching: it depicts an Indian mother wailing over the bodies of dead children, some of them hers.

But it would appear that the sheer emotion of this tragedy has clouded the Times' news judgment. Consider the headline: "Toll in Undersea Earthquake Passes 25,000; a Third of the Dead Are Said to Be Children." Now, granted, the tone of the headline is just-the-facts. But by emphasizing that a third of those killed were children, the clear message is that they were disproportionately the victims of this awful tragedy.

The main story, by Seth Mydans, adds to that impression in the second paragraph:

The toll from the disaster - with more than 25,000 dead and many unaccounted for - came into sharper relief on a day when it seemed increasingly clear that at least a third of the dead were children, according to estimates by aid officials.

Mydans's seventh paragraph expands on this - but contains an odd kicker:

The realization began to emerge Tuesday that the dead included an exceptionally high number of children who, aid officials suggested, were least able to grab onto trees or boats when the deadly waves smashed through villages and over beaches. Children make up at least half the population of Asia.

What? Let's back up for a moment. You don't have to be a math whiz to realize that if a third of the victims are children, but if at least half of all Asians are children, then, if anything, the victims of the earthquake were disproportionately adults.

Does this distinction matter? Not very much, perhaps. Journalists are struggling to make sense of these terrible events, and it's inevitable that some hyperbole is going to creep into their coverage. But editors back in the home office, at least, ought to be able to stop and think before putting together a front page that can't hold up its own internal logic.

TALK SOUP. Bob Garfield either wasn't thinking, or has a finely honed sense of irony. Actually, listeners already know he's dripping with irony. So the question is whether or not he was thinking.

I was listening to the podcast of NPR's On the Media while driving to work this morning when I heard Garfield's report on the media's overreliance on a few much-quoted experts, like congressional analyst Norman Ornstein and consumer advocate Gene Kimmelman.

So far, so good. But who was Garfield's main talking head? Why, it was Robert Thompson, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, and no slouch himself in the talking-head department. Indeed, a search of just "major papers" on Lexis-Nexis for the past 12 months reveals that Thompson was trotted out for a quote 289 times.

Thompson is used as often as he is because he's accessible, and he always has something interesting to say. As they say in the trade, he gives good phone. In fact, I called upon him as recently as last week, for a piece I was writing on FCC chairman Michael Powell.

Still, there was something perversely amusing about listening to Thompson talk with Garfield about the need for journalists to expand their rolodexes beyond the usual suspects.

posted at 11:29 AM | 6 comments | link

Monday, December 27, 2004

COMING TO GRIPS WITH THE QUAKE. I suspect it will be another day or two before the full impact of the terrible earthquake in Malaysia becomes clear, although what we know already is bad enough.

The Star, which is based in Malaysia, has put up a photo gallery, but an interactive feature (click on "Asia's Deadly Waves") put together on the New York Times website - with photos from India, Thailand, and Sri Lanka - is more evocative.

Glenn Reynolds has links to some Malaysian bloggers. The most frightening observation - one that will become more apparent as the week wears on - is that millions of people have lost access to drinkable water.

The headline on right now is "Asia Quake Death Toll Tops 23,000." I think everyone understands that the number is going much, much higher than that.

"EATING HAM FOR UNCLE SAM." My former Phoenix colleague Seth Gitell, now press secretary to Boston mayor Tom Menino, has written a must-read essay for a website called NextBook on a trove of letters his grandfather wrote while fighting in Europe during World War II.

The letters, about 1,000 of them, somehow made their way to the Boston Athenaeum, shedding new light on the role of Jewish soldiers in the war - an underexamined subject, Gitell notes, despite the fact that such celebrated Jewish novelists as Norman Mailer and Joseph Heller wrote about it.

posted at 10:03 AM | 1 comments | link

Thursday, December 23, 2004

POWELL SQUARED. Two pieces on FCC chairman Michael Powell. In the new Phoenix, I've got an essay that analyzes how the one-time libertarian technocrat morphed into the censor-in-chief. In the New York Times, Stephen Labaton traces the same devolution.

PUNK ZIMMY. Did you know that the Ramones once did a cover of Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages"? Me neither. Get yourself over to Coverville and find out more.

posted at 2:35 PM | 0 comments | link

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

TARGETING TECHNOLOGY. The entertainment industry is running wild again, shutting down servers that were being used to download movies illegally. Moral and legal arguments about file-sharing aside, what's significant about this is that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) is going after websites that use BitTorrent, a newish piece of software that greatly speeds up the transfer of large files.

Jess Kilby wrote about BitTorrent for the Portland Phoenix back in March. Without getting too technical, the way it works is that you download a file - say, a movie - in pieces from many users, rather than as one big file. At the same time, you're automatically uploading even as you're downloading. Users say that the more people who are doing it, the faster the file transfer goes.

Because the MPAA is going after sites that apparently facilitated file-sharing rather than targeting BitTorrent itself, it would be unfair to say that the industry is trying to shut down a particular technology. Still, there are some free-speech principles here that shouldn't be overlooked.

In the 1980s, the entertainment industry actually tried to stop the sale of VCRs, then a nascent technology, arguing that their only possible use was to steal copyrighted material. But in Sony Corporation of America v. Universal Studios, Inc. (1984), the Supreme Court refused to ban VCRs, ruling that they could also be used for perfectly legal purposes, such as time-shifting. Thus was the movie biz saved from its own narrow-sightedness: videos ultimately emerged as an important new source of revenue.

On the other hand, Napster eventually lost its legal battle, with the federal courts ruling that its music-sharing service could be used for almost nothing but copyright violation. (Today's Napster has nothing to do with the original service; an existing service merely acquired the name.)

What may be significant here is that the original Napster was not just a service that facilitated the trading of music files, copyrighted and not. It was also a software concept that has been abandoned, lest others run afoul of the law. Newer services, such as KaZaA and LimeWire, are better protected legally because they do not compile a centralized file of what's available - but they're also harder to use.

I'm rambling this morning. Sorry about that. What is the significance of all this with regard to BitTorrent? Simply this: like the original Napster, it can be used for illegal file-sharing. But like the VCR, it also has many legal uses. In the nascent world of podcasting, for instance, BitTorrent can be used to speed the transfer of large audio files produced by DIY radio programmers.

It's one thing for the MPAA to go after those who would steal movies. It's quite another if its quest to protect its copyright interests harms an idea that is still in its earliest stages. The industry tried and failed to kill the VCR. Let's hope it fails this time as well.

TRASHING HISTORY. The Boston Globe reports today that time is running out for the historic Gaiety Theatre. In October, Kristen Lombardi wrote a comprehensive piece on this outrage for the Boston Phoenix.

ABOUT TIME. The Boston Herald reports today that the US attorney's office has begun a criminal investigation into the leaks and cost overruns at the Big Dig. Maybe there's nothing there. But this has got to be looked at.

MOVING ON. Bay Windows, which covers the city's gay and lesbian community, has a new editor - Susan Ryan-Vollmar, the former news editor of the Phoenix. Susan makes the announcement on her weblog.

posted at 11:05 AM | 1 comments | link

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

THOSE SCARY ENVIROS II. After I posted yesterday's item on Maryland's non-existent eco-terrorists, I received an e-mail from Media Log reader C.M., who pointed me to this mind-blowing story that ran in the Anchorage Daily News on September 12, 2001.

At a moment when all of us were trying to figure out what had just happened, Republican congressman Don Young, of Alaska, had a possible answer. Liz Ruskin reported:

Young warned against rushing to the conclusion that Middle Eastern terrorists were responsible. There's some possibility, he said, that the attacks are linked to the protests against the World Trade Organization, another of which is scheduled for later this month in Washington, D.C.

"If you watched what happened [at past protests] in Genoa, in Italy, and even in Seattle, there's some expertise in that field," Young said. "I'm not sure they're that dedicated but eco-terrorists - which are really based in Seattle - there's a strong possibility that could be one of the groups."

Young issued a written statement the following day, but declined the opportunity to repeat the nutty remarks he'd made to the News.

posted at 11:14 AM | 5 comments | link

Monday, December 20, 2004

THOSE SCARY ENVIROS. Now that we know "eco-terrorists" (don't you love the term?) weren't responsible for those December 6 arson fires in a southern-Maryland subdivision, it's time to ask a few questions as to why the media were so gullible.

Not surprisingly, though many news organizations picked up on FBI suspicions, few went as far as Fox News. Here's a bit from Special Report with Brit Hume from December 7. Reporting is Steve Centanni:

The housing development is near a place called the Araby bog, it's a sensitive type of wetland called a Magnolia bog and that prompted the Sierra Club to protest the construction plans. The environmental group called the subdivision urban sprawl that impacts on fragile wetlands. Raising that possibility ecoterrorists, like the ELF, the Earth Liberation Front, could be to blame.

That group, the so-called ELFs, have launched high profile arson attacks to protest development across the country, including a 1998 attack in Vail, Colorado. But unlike in previous ELF attacks, no calling card like a banner, sign or any other claim of responsibility has been found here in Maryland. Although one could still turn up....

One source close to the investigation tells FOX News, members of the Earth Liberation Front are likely to be contacted as part of this painstaking investigation.

Can't you just feel the fear? And don't you love the casual, connect-the-dots link between the Sierra Club and house-burning radicals? Subdivisions go up every day, many of them in wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas. Yet how often do you hear about eco-terrorism? I'm not saying it never happens - evidently it has. But it seems sufficiently rare that it's bizarre for the Earth Liberation Front to emerge instantly as Fox's most likely suspect.

Here's CBS reporter Bob Orr on The Early Show for that same day:

While investigators are certain the fires were deliberately set, they don't know who's responsible. The neighborhood being built near a nature preserve has drawn criticism from environmentalists concerned that overdevelopment may threaten Chesapeake Bay wetlands.

So-called eco-terrorists have already used fire as a weapon. Last summer a group called the Earth Liberation Front admitted torching a $50 million development in California. Environmental extremists have also targeted upscale, gas-guzzling SUVs. Maryland authorities say so far they can't connect this fire to eco-terror. But the arson damage will top $10 million, and dozens of families have had their American Dreams interrupted.

"So far." But they will, by God! Except that they didn't.

To its credit, the Washington Post as early as December 8 ran a story by David A. Fahrenthold that took a skeptical view of the eco-terrorist angle, noting that it was only one possible motive, and that such criminal tactics are completely alien to the Maryland environmental movement. But it's so much more fun to say "eco-terrorist."

I'll grant you that this story never got completely out of hand, like the targeting of security guard Richard Jewell in the Atlanta Olympics bombing of 1996 (he was later cleared without ever having been formally charged), or the blaming of Islamist extremists in the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. But will the media ever learn to restrain themselves when stumped investigators float theories in the hope of flushing something or someone out?

Now we're told that race may have been a motive. We'll see about that.

CAPTURED SOUND, ROUND 2. I received some excellent advice in response to my recent call for help in finding a digital voice recorder. After rejecting a suggestion for a $700 unit (an easy call, though I'm sure it's great), I'm looking seriously at an Olympus DS-660. One Media Log reader told me she's very happy with her DS-330; and it seems that the more-expensive toy is only slightly more expensive if I buy it online - like around $150.

Any thoughts?

posted at 9:54 AM | 5 comments | link

Thursday, December 16, 2004

WHAT A DOLT. I imagine it would take a while to amass enough rejection letters from the op-ed page of a major daily newspaper to be able to get a funny column out of it. Bruce Stockler didn't want to wait. So he managed to sweet-talk National Review Online into posting his piece on rejections from the Washington Post without bothering to have actually been, you know, rejected.

Howard Kurtz has the details here. Read that first, and pay careful attention to the words of National Review editor Rich Lowry, who tells Kurtz, "This piece seems to me to be pretty obvious satire. It seems to me he's obviously making stuff up to be funny." Lowry does concede that the satire, if that's what it is, is more apparent by the end of Stockler's piece than at the beginning. But Lowry makes a serious factual error in calling Stockler's column "funny."

Then, if you care enough to continue, read Stockler. Act quickly! I wouldn't bet a lot of money that it will remain online the rest of the day. If you're like me, I think you'll agree that Stockler is nothing but a lying liar. (Via Romenesko.)

BRUDNOY'S LAST COLUMN. Among many other things, David Brudnoy was a film critic for the Community Newspaper chain. This week, CNC publishes his final piece - a heartfelt plea for AIDS research, especially in the Third World. There's more Brudnoy here.

In the new Phoenix, Harvey Silverglate has a terrific tribute to his friend.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Jack Beatty, of the Atlantic Monthly and the radio show On Point, talks about the great political writing that's between the covers of a recent book that he edited, Pols.

posted at 8:58 AM | 2 comments | link

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

ON SECOND THOUGHT. I've been holding off from offering more than a brief comment about that celebrated United Church of Christ ad, mainly because I wasn't quite sure what I thought. Well, I've been thinking some more. And it seems pretty clear to me that though the UCC's heart is in the right place, its ad sends a decidedly mixed message.

First, take a few moments to watch it. Note what you see. Two black-shirted goons stand in front of a church, turning away people they deem unfit to enter. We start with two young men, presumably a gay couple. "No. Step aside please," says one of the goons. Fair enough; discrimination against lesbians and gay men is at the heart of the culture war, and the UCC is absolutely right to take on the fundies. You have to wonder how many hard-core red-staters even know that there are mainstream religious denominations that do not discriminate.

But the ad quickly deteriorates. A young man who appears to be Latino approaches. "No way, not you," he is told. A young woman - possibly a teenager - who's either black or Latino is told, "No." Someone else - it's hard to say who - is told, "I don't think so."

What is the message here? That there are religious denominations that don't allow admittance to Latinos and blacks? This is pretty outrageous, and we shouldn't let this slide simply because the UCC espouses liberal values.

The second half of the ad is fine. After the goons are done with their work, we see a slide that says, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." After that, we see some happy families of various ethnicities and sexual orientations as the narrator says, "The United Church of Christ. No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."

What made the ad notorious, of course, was that it was rejected by CBS and NBC. In particular, CBS handed a gift to the UCC, issuing a bizarre statement that made it clear the network executives were more interested in toadying to the White House than in any sort of fair play. Said CBS:

Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations, and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks.

Why on earth would CBS say anything other than "the ad doesn't meet our standards"? More evidence that the wheels have completely come off the "Tiffany network."

The rejection has proved to be a publicity bonanza for the UCC, which is now trying to get the FCC to strip licenses from two Miami television stations, one owned by CBS, the other by NBC.

As a free-speech matter, this is an enormously complicated issue. Ordinarily, free-speech rights would reside with those to whom the ad is submitted. If the First Amendment means anything, it means that no one can be forced to propagate a message against his or her wishes, even if that message is accompanied by a check. Certainly no newspaper or magazine could be compelled to publish an ad it didn't want to accept.

But broadcasting has always been different, because of the theory that television and radio stations use scarce, publicly owned airwaves, and are thus bound by certain public-interest regulations. Add to that the fact that most broadcast outlets have fallen into the hands of a tiny number of corporate media giants, and it can be argued that CBS and NBC are too powerful to be allowed the last word on what advocacy ads they will or will not accept. My solution: break up the media monopolies, and extend the full protection of the First Amendment to radio and television.

If I were a network executive, I'd like to think I would accept the UCC ad. It's good to see religious liberals starting to fight back, even though I'm put off by the UCC's implication that the fundies discriminate against racial minorities - something that's clearly not true. But I would also have to think through the implications. If I run an ad that implies there are religious denominations that don't accept Latinos or blacks, what right would I then have to reject an ad portraying the UCC as a hotbed of Satan-worshippers? Or an ad that says Unitarian Universalists are all going to hell? (At least I'll see my friends!)

For that matter, consider the most defensible part of the UCC ad - the turning-away of a gay couple. Could this not open the door to some religious-right group demanding that the networks accept an ad denouncing gays and lesbians? If the UCC can try to get the FCC to force stations to carry its ad, why couldn't the Reverend James Dobson?

Maybe what we've got is the best possible outcome. The networks have asserted their First Amendment rights. And the UCC has gotten its message out far more effectively than if its ad had been quietly accepted.

posted at 9:14 AM | 12 comments | link

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

MORE ON THE HERALD. Romenesko has dug up a good background story from the Boston Business Journal.

posted at 7:50 AM | 0 comments | link

THE HERALD ON TRIAL. There have got to be some long faces at One Herald Square today. The Washington Post has weighed in with a lengthy, front-page story by Alicia Mundy on a libel suit against the Boston Herald. And if that weren't bad enough, it's been picked up by Drudge.

The suit stems from a page-one splash the Herald published on February 13, 2002: "Murphy's Law: Lenient Judge Frees Dangerous Criminals." The story, by Herald reporter Dave Wedge, claimed that Superior Court judge Ernest Murphy had said of a 14-year-old rape victim, "Tell her to get over it." According to Murphy, he never said it, and Wedge's story has had an enormously damaging effect on his reputation, his state of mind, and his and his family's health.

In a new-media twist, Murphy's suit incorporates statements that Wedge made on Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor. That makes sense, but it's also enough to send a chill down the spine of any reporter. When you're working on a sensitive story, every line is subjected to an editor's careful inspection. Sometimes a lawyer will look it over, too. But go on TV and start blabbing about it, and you're operating strictly without a net.

Here is what Murphy told the Boston Globe several weeks after the Herald story ran:

I deny that I ever said anything critical of, or demeaning about, the victim. Every single quote that has been attributed to me about that has been fabricated out of thin air. The real truth is 180 degrees. I was extremely concerned about the welfare of the victim, and I made that position apparent to everyone.

Here is what the Post reports about Wedge:

Wedge said he stands behind what he wrote but acknowledged the quote may not have been exact. "I know he said the judge said either 'She's got to get over it' or 'Tell her to get over it,'" he said in an interview. Murphy maintains the conversation never occurred....

Wedge acknowledged in an affidavit that the 14-year-old girl, who he wrote had "tearfully" read her "heart-wrenching" statement in court, in fact never spoke in court nor took the stand. And although his story referred to "several" courthouse sources, he confirmed in a deposition that he had talked with only one person who had allegedly heard Murphy make the comment.

As Mundy observes, because Murphy is a public official he must show that the Herald acted with "actual malice" - that is, that it published the story knowing that it was false, or that it acted with reckless disregard for whether the story was true or false. So Murphy still faces quite a hurdle.

It will be interesting to see whether the Herald fights back against the Post. If I were Pat Purcell, I'd take a called strike on this one.

posted at 7:44 AM | 1 comments | link

Monday, December 13, 2004

THE PASSION OF GARY WEBB. The accounts of investigative reporter Gary Webb's suicide over the weekend are as conventional as you can get. Typical is the lead in today's Los Angeles Times:

Gary Webb, an investigative reporter who wrote a widely criticized series linking the CIA to the explosion of crack cocaine in Los Angeles, was found dead in his Sacramento-area home Friday. He apparently killed himself, authorities said.

Webb's three-part series on the connection between the CIA, the Nicaraguan contras, and crack was a sensation when it was published in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996. It was also one of the first big breakthroughs in Internet journalism: the Mercury put it all online, and people around the country logged on to learn about how the CIA - at the very least - looked the other way while right-wing death squads financed their US-supported rampages by selling drugs.

Sadly for Webb, the Mercury lacked the courage of its reporter's convictions. And after the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the LA Times published long pieces debunking Webb's reporting, Webb was thrown overboard. Webb's reporting wasn't perfect, but his series, "Dark Alliance," was full of valuable information - information that the mainstream media had been notably lax in reporting during the preceding decade.

Norman Solomon's 1997 overview for Extra!, published by Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, is a useful corrective. As Solomon observes, the debunkers relied to a large extent on unnamed CIA sources. Senator John Kerry, who headed an investigation into contra drug-running in the late 1980s, was also mocked by some of these same dubious characters.

In recent years Webb kicked around, even doing some work with Al Giordano at Giordano has posted a Spanish-language tribute to Webb; perhaps the English version will be available soon for us monolingual ugly Americans.

Robert Parry, whose reporting for Newsweek and the Associated Press unearthed pieces of the contra/CIA/crack connection as well, has uploaded an overview of Webb's reporting here.

posted at 1:29 PM | 3 comments | link

Saturday, December 11, 2004

POST-SAFIRE. Jack Shafer has some interesting speculation in Slate over who might succeed the New York Times' retiring conservative columnist, William Safire. Though the smart money is on John Tierney, Shafer has a few other ideas - including former Boston Globe columnist John Ellis.

Ellis wouldn't be a bad choice (indeed, Shafer quotes from a 1999 profile I did on Ellis to that effect), but the timing is pretty obviously wrong, given that his cousin is the president. Still, Ellis would be infinitely preferable to that hack Fred Barnes, whose name is floating around for reasons Media Log knows not.

HELP MEDIA LOG! After suffering through one near-disaster too many with a tape-recorded interview last week (if my victim is reading this, don't worry - we saved it), I've finally decided to break down and get a digital voice recorder.

Media Log Jr. thinks I can get a good one for $40. My gut tells me I should probably pay a little more than that, though I'm not looking to spend a fortune. My requirements:

  • It should hold two to four hours' worth of stuff; more would be even better.
  • It must be compatible with Mac OS X.
  • It's got to have good transcription software included, or at least available by download.
  • An input to record phone interviews is a must.
  • I prefer batteries over a charger, but can go either way.

I've already ruled out a plug-in for my iPod - the reviews are mediocre. So what should I get?

posted at 11:58 AM | 7 comments | link

Friday, December 10, 2004

ALL BRUDS, ALL THE TIME. Here's a treat for fans of the late David Brudnoy: a short film of him getting his photograph taken with Harvey Silverglate in the studio of Cambridge photographer Elsa Dorfman, Harvey's wife. It's by longtime Boston television journalist Chuck Kraemer. Click here and scroll down.

Brudnoy's friend Jon Keller had a nice tribute last night on WLVI-TV (Channel 56) - some highlights of appearances by Brudnoy on Channel 56 over the years. Keller is putting together an all-Brudnoy Keller at Large, so stay tuned.

Brudnoy's on-air home, WBZ, has posted an audio tribute alongside the interview that Gary LaPierre did with him on Wednesday. You can listen to both by clicking here.

Mark Feeney's front-page Brudnoy obit in the Globe is well worth reading, as is Dean Johnson's piece in the Herald.

And here is where you should send your check: The David Brudnoy Fund for AIDS Research; Massachusetts General Hospital; Development and Public Affairs Office; 101 Merrimac Street M01410; Boston, MA 02114-4719.

What were the odds, when Brudnoy was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, that he'd still be around in 2004? This is a sad day, but in many respects Brudnoy beat the odds. What he gave to this city and this region is incalculable. Dean Johnson's sidebar today on who might replace Bruds only serves to emphasize what a void David leaves.

No one, as they say, is irreplaceable. Except David Brudnoy.

posted at 7:25 AM | 3 comments | link

Thursday, December 09, 2004

SAYING GOODBYE TO BRUDNOY. Fine pieces today by the Boston Globe's Brian McGrory and the Boston Herald's Mike Barnicle (sub. req.) on David Brudnoy, the legendary talk-show host of WBZ Radio (AM 1030) and a fixture in the city since the 1970s.

Dean Johnson of the Herald has a good account of "The Last David Brudnoy Show," hosted last night by former 'BZ host Peter Meade, a close friend of Brudnoy's. The Meade show was a fitting tribute to Brudnoy. I listened for the first hour, and was especially moved by my friend "Seth from Hull," my friend and occasional collaborator Harvey Silverglate, and by Paul Sullivan, a WBZ host who is himself battling cancer.

Here is the interview that Gary LaPierre did with Brudnoy yesterday. There's a streaming-audio version online, too; if you haven't heard it yet, please try it. Brudnoy's courage and dignity are beyond comprehension.

We are about to lose a truly amazing man.

FACT-CHECKING SEVERIN. While Boston was saying goodbye yesterday to a true giant of talk radio, a new-generation talker, Jay Severin, was attempting to rip apart Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh during his afternoon show on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM). It was truly enough to make you doubt the theory of evolution.

I'm not going to get into the merits of Lehigh's latest attack on Severin, except to say that I basically agree with Lehigh. But just in case any card-carrying members of the Best and Brightest are reading Media Log today, I want to take a closer look at a few things Severin said, in the possibly vain hope that they will come away Better and Brighter.

My usual caveat in these situations: I was in my car and wasn't rolling tape. I'm confident that this is accurate, but you're not going to see any direct quotes.

First, in an attempt to demonstrate Lehigh's alleged insignificance and his own incomparable awesomeness, Severin breathlessly told his listeners that if you search for Jay Severin on Google, you will come up with 26,400 hits. Wow! That must mean he's, like, a master of the universe or something. (I see this morning that it's down to 26,200 hits. These things fluctuate.)

Of course, a master of the universe can't be expected actually to learn how to use Google. But as every good Googler knows, you've got to put a full name in quotation marks, like this - "Jay Severin." Otherwise, you'll get everything that has the word "Severin" and everything that has the word "Jay." If you use the quotation marks, and eliminate all those stories about the Toronto Blue Jays, jaywalking, and Jay Peak, what do you get? How does 6970 hits sound?

Now, that's still not too shabby, I think we can agree. But let's do a quotation-mark search for "Scot Lehigh." Oooh - 3610 hits. Not as many as Severin, but not bad. Besides, there are hits and there are hits.

Which brings me to a second point. Severin claimed that Lehigh knew nothing about national politics because he's never covered national politics. I believe he said something about Lehigh covering garbage pick-up in Revere or some such thing. In fact, Lehigh has covered several presidential campaigns. And here is a link that Severin might not want the Best and the Brightest to know about: it's to the website for the Pulitzer Prizes. I can't find a way to create a direct link, but if you drill down, you'll see that Lehigh was a finalist for a Pulitzer in national reporting in 1989, for his coverage of the '88 presidential campaign, when he was a reporter for the Boston Phoenix.

(Here's a meaningless aside that I can't resist: if you Google "Dan Kennedy," you will get 155,000 hits - just a few more than Severin's almost-7000. As you'll see if you do this, there are four different Dan Kennedys on the first page of results alone, so the comparison's not exactly fair. But hey, Best and Brightest! I hold down four of the top five unsponsored slots!)

Third, Severin boasted about the number of times he's been interviewed by the national media. It's true - he has. I searched "news transcripts" on Lexis-Nexis and came up with 868 examples. The vast majority, though, seemed to be appearances on Imus in the Morning and from his old talking-head shtick on MSNBC - and for some reason, a number of those appearances were listed multiple times. So it's actually quite a bit less than 868.

Severin said he had been interviewed by Tom Brokaw; Lexis-Nexis contains zero evidence of that ever having happened. (Lexis-Nexis isn't perfect, so I wouldn't call that dispositive.) Severin also said he had appeared on Nightline. I had better luck with that, coming up with three appearances - the most recent of which occurred in 1995.

Severin is eminently well-credentialed to do what he does; take that any way you like. What's interesting, though, is that Lehigh, in the course of expressing some pretty harsh opinions about Severin, said nothing that was even remotely untrue. Severin, in fighting back, couldn't manage to get through the 10 or so minutes that I was listening without making several whoppers.

posted at 8:40 AM | 12 comments | link

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

THE DAVID BRUDNOY ERA. David Brudnoy, the best radio talk-show host in the history of the city, if not the country, is seriously ill and is not expected to recover. He's been at Massachusetts General Hospital since last week for tests. Today the hospital announced that the sixtysomething Brudnoy has suffered a recurrence of Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare, aggressive form of skin cancer that knocked him off the air for several months last year. The cancer has now spread to his liver.

In addition to being a terrific talk-show host and a friend to an astounding array of media, political, and literary figures and regular folks, Brudnoy is a medical marvel. In 1994 Brudnoy nearly died of AIDS after having secretly lived with the disease since the 1980s. Against all odds, Brudnoy recovered and returned to the airwaves on WBZ Radio (AM 1030). And with the advent of new AIDS drugs, Brudnoy remained in remarkable health until last year.

Despite living with illness for nearly 20 years, Brudnoy kept up a schedule that people half his age found inspiring - even intimidating. In addition to his three-hours-per-night (five before '94) radio show, he taught journalism at Boston University and wrote movie reviews for the Tab newspapers. He also wrote occasionally for the Phoenix, including, most recently, "Where's Our Gay Sidney Poitier?", on why gays and lesbians need non-stereotypical media role models.

A self-described libertarian conservative, Brudnoy is the sort who can get along with almost everyone and who treats everyone he meets with respect. A Japanese scholar who graduated from Yale University, Brudnoy pursued a career in a medium not exactly known for its intellectualism. But rather than letting talk radio drag him down, Brudnoy elevated it. Like the late Jerry Williams, Brudnoy is a founder, a giant in his field of the sort who may not be seen again.

Brudnoy is said to be spending today doing interviews with Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle, and his own station. His interview with WBZ will be broadcast tonight at 7 on a special program that will reportedly be hosted by his old 'BZ sidekick, Peter Meade.

The last time I interviewed Brudnoy was in September 2003, just after he'd been diagnosed with Merkel's. Among other things, I asked him how he had changed as a result of living with illness for all those years.

"I've learned one thing: I can't do it alone," he responded. "I've always had friends, I've always loved people. But I always thought, 'I can take care of my own things.' And I realize now, you can't. I've learned to need people and not to feel embarrassed. I've also learned to open up far more. I never wanted people to stay here at the house. It isn't that I didn't like people, it's that I felt I couldn't function with house guests. I've lived so long alone. I finally got a hide-a-bed. And I've learned I kind of like people around.

"I've also found that my priorities are more devoted to helping others. I realize how many people helped me get through 1994. And so I tend to be a little bit more comfortable reaching out."

David Brudnoy is a great man, and his passing will create an enormous void in the fabric of the city and of New England.

Mass General issued a statement on Brudnoy's condition moments ago. Here it is in full:

December 8, 2004

Statement from the Massachusetts General Hospital regarding David Brudnoy

From Greg Robbins, MD, MGH Infectious Disease Division, and John Clark, MD, MGH Cancer Center

WBZ Radio talk show host David Brudnoy was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital Dec. 3 because of a recurrence of Merkel cell carcinoma, the disease that kept him off of the air last fall and winter while he underwent treatment. The cancer, which had been in remission until several weeks ago, has spread to his liver, affecting the functioning of that organ. As a consequence of the disease, his kidneys also are failing.

Because of the recurrence of cancer and the multi-organ failure, his condition is terminal. Mr. Brudnoy has asked that he receive only comfort care. He continues to be alert and is resting comfortably.

Merkel cell carcinoma is a very rare and highly aggressive form of skin cancer characterized by malignant cells that begin to form just beneath the skin and in hair follicles. This type of cancer grows rapidly and often spreads to other parts of the body.

Mr. Brudnoy has been treated at the MGH for HIV infection for more than a decade, and his immune system has steadily improved with the ongoing use of HIV medications. Merkel cell carcinoma is not related to HIV disease.


Mr. Brudnoy has asked the MGH on his behalf to express his deepest appreciation for the thoughts, words and gestures of kindness as well as the many cards and flowers he has received. He also has asked the hospital to remind his friends and listeners about the David Brudnoy Fund for AIDS Research, which he established a decade ago to help in the ongoing fight against HIV disease locally as well as internationally. For more information about the fund contact the MGH at (617) 726-2200.

posted at 3:53 PM | 2 comments | link

PETER BEINART'S '50S REVIVAL. I'm not going to attempt a detailed response to Peter Beinart's "argument for a new liberalism," the cover story (sub. req.) in this week's New Republic. But you should read it. I have some fundamental disagreements with Beinart's analysis, but his essay is subtle and complex, and he has answers for all of my disagreements, even if I find those answers inadequate.

A bit of background: for TNR to prescribe a new path for the Democratic Party is itself significant. For many years the magazine, a longtime voice of liberalism, railed against what editor-in-chief/part owner Marty Peretz saw as the excesses of liberalism - especially affirmative action, welfare, and a contemptible instinct for coddling Palestinian terrorists. (I strongly disagree with TNR's stance on affirmative action, which I think is a vital tool for building a decent society.)

TNR's vision was largely fulfilled by the 1992 election of a centrist Democrat, Bill Clinton, as president, but it faltered when Peretz's friend Al Gore lost (well, not lost, but you know what I mean) to George W. Bush in 2000. In a sense, Beinart's essay is a return to the New Republic of the pre-Clinton years, in that he is attempting to redefine liberalism as something less liberal than prevails in Democratic circles today.

Beinart's main argument is that the Democratic Party has to start taking totalitarian Islam seriously, just as the Democratic Party of Harry Truman took communism seriously in the late 1940s and '50s. And just as the Democrats of a half-century ago cast out squishes like Henry Wallace, so should the Democrats of today distance themselves from Michael Moore and, which Beinart sees as profoundly unserious about terrorism - even to the point of opposing our entirely justified war in Afghanistan.

There are some problems with this. For one thing, there is some internal incoherence to Beinart's argument. At one point, for instance, Beinart writes, "The three candidates who made winning the war on terrorism the centerpiece of their campaigns - Joseph Lieberman, Bob Graham, and Wesley Clark - each failed to capture the imagination of liberal activists eager for a positive agenda only in the domestic sphere." Yet he fails to point out that among Clark's most prominent backers was Moore - not to mention the great political philosopher Madonna, whose politics, I assume, spring from the Moore/MoveOn wing of the party.

For another, Beinart acknowledges, yet gives insufficient emphasis to, the reality that the Bush administration essentially hijacked the struggle against terrorism by launching an unjustified war in Iraq. This tragic error is now the overarching foreign-policy issue. And it does little good to argue that Iraq is actually a diversion from the battle against terrorism when Bush has done such a good job of convincing the public that it is at the heart of the war on terrorism. In the past election, it didn't help that John Kerry had voted in favor of the war - even though Beinart thinks that was the right thing to do.

So tied up is Beinart in visions of Truman, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and John Kennedy that at one point he actually argues that Democrats should blast Bush's deficit spending because it's made it harder to increase military spending, rhetoric that would echo Kennedy's 1960 campaign.

To be sure, there was a certain muddled quality to Kerry's message. For the most part, though, I think the Democrats are right where Beinart thinks they ought to be. For the party to win, it needs to sharpen its message about why the war in Iraq is wrong. For Democrats to argue that they would be tougher than the Republicans but more competent calls to mind an old Truman line: "If it's a choice between a genuine Republican, and a Republican in Democratic clothing, the people will choose the genuine article, every time."

JESUS CHRIST! This non-ecumenical message is brought to you by the fine folks at Clear Channel, the Texas-based chain that owns more than 1000 radio stations, that contributes big-time to George W. Bush, and that yanked the Dixie Chicks off its country stations after they had the gall to criticize the Great Leader.

And, oh yeah, it's giving us "progressive radio" in Boston.

posted at 8:50 AM | 1 comments | link

Monday, December 06, 2004

BIG AWARD FOR BARON. Boston Globe editor Martin Baron will be honored as the 2004 Beveridge Editor of the Year, according to this Associated Press report (via Romenesko). According to the website of the National Press Foundation, which awards the Beveridge, "The award is open to an editor at any level, is made in recognition of imagination, professional skill, ethics and an ability to motivate staff - qualities that produce excellence in media."

Other National Press Foundation winners are Tim Russert and Seymour Hersh.

A couple of sidelights about Baron's award:

- The 2003 winner was Sandra Mims Rowe, the editor of the Oregonian. Rowe had been a candidate to succeed retiring Globe editor Matt Storin in the summer of 2001 before publisher Richard Gilman turned to Baron, then the executive editor of the Miami Herald and a veteran of the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

- The 2002 winner was Howell Raines, then the executive editor of the New York Times. Of course, in 2003 Raines was forced to resign over his brutal mismanagement of the Jayson Blair scandal. In May 2004, the Atlantic Monthly published a monumental post-mortem by Raines in which, among other things, he cited Baron as a model:

[T]he feverish pace also underscored some of my weaknesses. One of these is to respond to great staff effort by demanding that the next day we do "more, better, faster" in the words of Martin Baron, the similarly inclined editor of The Boston Globe.

That drew a letter from Baron, published in the July/August issue that began:

Howell Raines endeavors to pull me into his orbit by invoking my desire to get "more, better, faster" from a newsroom. Having never worked for or with him, I can't speak from experience about his approach to managing a news staff. I imagine our styles differ quite a bit.

My model (and mentor) is his predecessor, Joe Lelyveld, who is deplorably mistreated and inaccurately portrayed in Raines's assessment of The New York Times.

Somehow I don't think Baron and Raines will be sitting together at the awards dinner.

posted at 9:01 PM | 1 comments | link

THE BOB AND ED SHOW. CBS has posted a three-minute clip of Ed Bradley's fine interview with Bob Dylan, broadcast last night on 60 Minutes. Bradley properly discloses that Dylan's book, Chronicles: Volume I, was published by a corporate sibling, the Viacom-owned Simon & Schuster - which, unfortunately, is just the way things are these days. Anyway, if you missed it - and why, might I ask? - be sure at least to catch these highlights.

Here is a reasonably complete account of the interview. But you really need to see it. Dylan appears to be struggling mightily with his legendary shyness; he also seems to want to come off as reasonably normal, which is a struggle for him. Good stuff - a far better addition to 60 Minutes than the pending arrival of Dan Rather, that's for sure. I'd bounce Rather from the anchor chair at the CBS Evening News right now, and let Zimmy fill in until a replacement is ready.

The Phoenix's Jon Garelick recently wrote an insightful review of Chronicles.

THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS SPEAKS. Syndicated columnist Robert Novak, the journalist who outed former undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, has not been threatened with jail for refusing to reveal his source, while other journalists more peripherally involved are facing prison - including New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who's never even written about the case, but whose name apparently came up in connection with the leak investigation.

This has led to at least some speculation that Novak is in fact the subject of a criminal investigation, and that that is the reason he hasn't been subpoenaed. But Novak - who up until now has been completely silent on the matter - partially addressed the issue during a talk last Wednesday in Madison, Wisconsin.

According to the Capital Times, Novak said, "To the regret of many people, I am not a criminal target." A student tried to get him to expand on that incomplete answer, but Novak wouldn't bite. (Via Romenesko.)

Which leaves a puzzling question: why is special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald going easy on Novak, if that's what he's doing? Is it because Novak is an ally of the White House? Or is it because Fitzgerald is saving Novak for last?

FAILING TO DIG BIG. Boston Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund today fails to offer a clear answer in the matter of two recent op-ed-page controversies involving the leak-infested Big Dig. She writes that she wishes officials of Bechtel/Parsons Brinckerhoff, the project manager, had been willing to rework their op-ed submission so that it could have been published, but she doesn't specify what was wrong with it to begin with. And she punts on the matter of whether former Mass Pike general counsel Peter Pendergast's piece was so riddled with errors that it never should have run in the first place.

Well, let me try to sort this out.

1. Bechtel's op-ed, published as a full-page ad in the Herald after it was rejected by the Globe, was nothing more than a response to the Globe's negative - and apparently entirely accurate - reporting. According to Chinlund, the Globe offered to run the op-ed as a letter. That would have been fine.

2. As for Pendergast's November 15 column, which was challenged by three prominent people (including former governor Jane Swift), Chinlund quotes editorial-page editor Renée Loth as saying, "Many times disputes of 'fact' are really about argument or point of view." But a re-read of Pendergast's column reveals that to be a problematic response. He made very specific, factual assertions.

Op-ed-page co-editor Nick King adds, "We don't have the resources to fact-check our op-ed pieces. We carefully talk to the author. In this case, we had some back and forth ... but there is an element of faith and trust. Especially with writers who come from a background of expertise in the area."

Granted, it's hard to vet outside contributions as thoroughly as they ought to be. But if Pendergast's column was as off-base as his critics allege, then what was missing was basic editing of the sort you would hope the paper would apply to all of its pieces, whether they're written by staff columnists or outsiders.

posted at 8:30 AM | 3 comments | link

Saturday, December 04, 2004

BUSHONOMICS MADE SIMPLE. The New York Times' James Brooke and Keith Bradsher explain one of the effects of the trade deficit, a longtime problem that has been exacerbated by the Bush administration's irresponsible fiscal policies:

[O]fficials at the State Administration of Foreign Exchange in Beijing have been seeking higher yields by plowing billions of dollars a month into bonds backed by mortgages on houses across the United States, according to bankers who help Beijing manage the money. By helping keep mortgage rates from rising, China has come to play an enormous and little-noticed role in sustaining the American housing boom.

Keep that in mind the next time you're wondering why the White House won't criticize China's appalling human-rights record.

Be sure to read the last two paragraphs. At least there's something to laugh about.

posted at 1:46 PM | 4 comments | link

Friday, December 03, 2004

DOES HILLARY HAVE A METHODIST PROBLEM? Senator Hillary Clinton is a Methodist, and by all accounts a serious one. Whatever its origins, Methodism these days is seen as a liberal mainline denomination. I'm no expert, but in my own mind I would place it just ever so slightly to the right of Congregationalism.

Now the United Methodist Church has defrocked the Reverend Beth Stroud for coming out as a lesbian involved in an ongoing relationship. Will this have political implications? Doesn't everything?

Clinton is routinely described as the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. This is lazy punditry; if you think about her political shortcomings and her own public statements, it's more likely than not that she'll never run for president. Still, it's certainly a possibility, and there's no doubt that some elements of the party want her to run.

Well, now Clinton may find herself in a difficult position with her own church. If she supports church leaders, she risks alienating gay and lesbian voters. If she supports Stroud, she risks alienating cultural moderates. In other words, she's in pretty much the same position that John Kerry was with respect to his Catholicism and his nuanced stand on same-sex marriage.

I found myself genuinely surprised by the Methodists' actions, and realized I know even less about them than I'd assumed. Coming as this did during a week when the United Church of Christ (i.e., the Congregationalists and a few related denominations) are getting all sorts of attention because CBS and NBC won't run its pro-gay ad, it seems that perhaps the hopes of building a significant liberal religious movement are rather slim.

Then again, George W. Bush is a Methodist, isn't he?

THE GREAT GROVER CLEVELAND. Must reading today on our 22nd and 24th president from the Daily Howler. If you're scratching your heads, rest assured that this is mostly about Fox News's utterly clueless Chris Wallace.

STEROIDS DON'T WORK. How else do you explain Jeremy Giambi?

posted at 1:26 PM | 4 comments | link

Thursday, December 02, 2004

NEWS OF THE WIKI. What is wiki news? Damned if I know. John Mello tries to figure it out - and quotes ignorant me - at TechNewsWorld.

Just to prove that I'm not 100 percent ignorant, wiki news - and an actual demonstration of it, known, fortuitously enough, as Wikinews - is news produced on a collective basis using software that allows people to collaborate on Web pages. As envisioned by Wikinews, the content will be produced by amateur volunteers. Supposedly it will be more impartial and fact-oriented than blogs, since other users can log in and revise stories that they find too attitudinal.

It doesn't sound promising - especially when you consider that the stories posted so far are rewrites from mainstream media sources. Also, since everything is subject to "peer review," how can you call it "news"? "Olds" is more like it.

Wikinews is associated with the Wikipedia, a volunteer-produced free encyclopedia that is rapidly becoming a reference of choice. Often I'll find stuff in the Wikipedia that's deeper and that appears to be better than what's available in my academic subscription to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

But there's the ever-present question of who's producing what. With the Britannica, I can assume that editors put quite a bit of thought into each entry, starting with which experts should be asked to contribute in any particular field. With the Wikipedia - well, who knows?

Wiki news - and Wikinews - will be worth watching, but I've got my doubts.

A PYRRHIC VICTORY. Though I'm certainly glad that WJAR-TV (Channel 10) investigative reporter Jim Taricani will probably not have to go to prison, there's something galling about the fact that the judge and the special prosecutor got what they wanted.

Taricani is blameless - it was his source, defense attorney Joseph Bevilacqua Jr., who finally stepped forward. But the Taricani case, unfortunately, now stands as an example of how the government can pressure journalists in order to obtain the names of confidential sources.

NEW IN THIS WEEK'S PHOENIX. Why that video of a marine shooting an insurgent in Fallujah has already started to fade.

posted at 9:25 AM | 3 comments | link

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

THE PASSION OF JOE TRIPPI. Howard Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi, offered his prescription for what's wrong with the Democratic Party and how to fix it on the editorial page of yesterday's Wall Street Journal. If you're into conspiracy theories, you might ponder the fact that the leading forum of ultraconservatism would choose to post Trippi's decidedly left-leaning thoughts. It could be that Paul Gigot hopes the Democrats will take Trippi's advice even more than Trippi does.

Trippi's piece is online here. And though he's got some smart things to say, for the most part Trippi shows that he fundamentally misunderstands the phenomenon he helped to create, a phenomenon that was reaching its peak - lest we forget - just about one year ago.

I'll get to some of Trippi's specific observations in a moment. In general, though, what Trippi doesn't get is that, in retrospect, it's clear that there never was a Dean campaign. There was a Trippi campaign, and for a while it was impressive. But Dean himself - a smart, somewhat unpleasant, fiscally conservative former governor from a microscopic state - was never more than a blank slate on which Trippi could try out his innovative ideas. By using the Internet to build a decentralized, grassroots campaign, Trippi was able to capitalize on Democratic anger toward the Bush administration and especially its war policies at a time when the more-mainstream candidates were trying to take a more cautious path.

Trippi generated a great deal of excitement, especially among politically involved young people (a tiny group), over the idea of an in-your-face anti-war movement. Dean himself was never particularly important. If he was, well, maybe someone might have actually voted for him. Instead, he was an also-ran, filling the left-wing (despite Dean's actual views) truth-telling slot that might have been taken by Dennis Kucinich had Dean never run.

As to some specific points by Trippi:

Mr. Kerry raised nearly half of his war chest over the Internet. He was so successful at this that he actually outspent the Bush campaign. But it was the outsider campaign of Howard Dean, reviled by most of the Democratic establishment, that pioneered the use of the Internet to raise millions in small contributions; Mr. Kerry was just the beneficiary as the party nominee. And it was the risk-taking Dean campaign that forced the risk-averse Kerry campaign to opt out of the public financing system. Had that decision not been forced on Mr. Kerry, he would have been badly outspent by George Bush; he would not have been competitive at all throughout the long summer of 2004.

There is some truth to this. Certainly John Kerry, a lifelong advocate of campaign-finance reform, would not have opted out of public financing had Dean not essentially forced him to do so. But the idea that no one understood how to raise money on the Internet before Dean (actually, Trippi) is ridiculous. The notion of using technology as a fundraising tool, especially by outsiders, is an old one. Jerry Brown mentioned his 800 number every chance he got in 1992. In 2000, John McCain constantly flogged his website, and had some success raising money that way. Trippi took it to a new level not because he understood something different about the Internet, but because he built a campaign that specifically appealed to young, technologically savvy, well-educated activists who spent a lot of time online. Kerry didn't so much emulate Dean as he did benefit from a change that was already taking place.


Mr. Kerry's lead among young voters hid just how bad Election Day really was for Democrats. In 2000, voters between 18 and 29 split their votes evenly: nine million each for Mr. Bush and Al Gore. But in 2004, two million more voters in this age group turned out to vote. And while Mr. Bush won the same nine million, 11 million voted for Mr. Kerry. But when we set aside his two million new younger voters, the true disaster is revealed. In 2000, Mr. Gore and Ralph Nader won a combined total of 54 million votes. This year Mr. Kerry and Mr. Nader got 53 million (ignoring the two million new young voters).

Mr. Kerry was a weaker candidate than Mr. Gore. He lost so much ground among women, Hispanics, and other key groups, that the millions in Internet money, the most Herculean get-out-the-vote effort in party history, and the largest turnout of young voters in over a decade, couldn't save him. Had the young stayed home, the sea of red on the map would have grown to include at least Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire - perhaps one or two more.

Is this really all that hard to explain in terms other than "Kerry was a disaster"? Four years ago Gore ran as the inheritor of a popular president and a legacy of peace and prosperity. Bush was a lightly experienced former governor who didn't seem all that bright. In 2004, by contrast, Kerry was faced with the unenviable task of trying to defeat an incumbent president during a time of war - something that's never been done - and of trying to convince the country he would be more effective in the fight against terrorism than a president who'd done a good job selling the public, at least, on the notion that he'd stood up to the terrorists.

Trippi continues:

Since the Democratic Leadership Council, with its mantra of "moderate, moderate, moderate," took hold in D.C., the party has been in decline at just about every level of government. Forget the Kerry loss. Today the number of Democrats in the House is the lowest it's been since 1948. Democrats are on the brink of becoming a permanent minority party. Can the oldest democratic institution on earth wake from its stupor?

Trippi seems to forget that Bill Clinton was elected president twice by chanting the DLC mantra of "moderate, moderate, moderate." I've got some problems with Clintonism, but, politically at least, Trippi cannot credibly claim that it didn't work. It's true that Kerry campaigned as a centrist, and he's got some genuinely moderate credentials. But it's equally true that, in some ways (like his voting record), Kerry was the Democrats' most liberal nominee since Walter Mondale in 1984. I don't think it was his liberalism that did Kerry in; more likely, it was his difficulty in communicating a simple, understandable message to ordinary people. (Not that that would have necessarily worked, either; Bush's advantages were considerable.) But Trippi simply can't say that the Democrats have been laid low by rightward drift. The party needs a coherent message; maybe, as Trippi suggests, that message can be liberal. But lacking a message shouldn't be confused with Trippi's own ideological longings.

Trippi closes with a grocery list of micro-recommendations, including trying to give a boost to organized labor - as if the Democrats weren't trying to do that already. Trippi sensibly whacks Wal-Mart for paying "substandard wages with no real benefits," and he wonders why the Democrats can't take advantage of that. Unfortunately, the Republicans have figured out that more people shop at Wal-Mart than work there.

So what's the way back for Democrats? At the presidential level, I actually think it's pretty clear: a Clinton-like figure who can connect with ordinary voters on populist/liberal issues such as the economy, health care, college tuition, and the like; who doesn't betray the party's progressive ideals on such matters as gay rights, but who can at least communicate with cultural conservatives (this is how you win over moderates; the religious right is obviously lost to the Democrats, and it ought to stay lost); and who can at least reach the threshold of credibility on matters of national security. (In reality, the Republicans have zero credibility, so this is about communication more than it is actual policy.)

Joe Trippi is obviously one of the guys that Democrats ought to talk to. Just so long as they don't take him too seriously.

ELECTION FRAUD ROUNDUP. In today's Globe Brian Mooney's got a comprehensive overview of what we know about voting problems in the presidential campaign. Yes, it's a mess. No, Kerry didn't win. I remain intrigued by this story, but have yet to see any evidence that there was such massive fraud as to call the outcome into doubt.

MEDIA LOG PREDICTION. Remember, you read it here first. Former state senator Cheryl Jacques, who resigned yesterday as the top official at the Human Rights Campaign, will move to Cambridge. The city's congressman, Mike Capuano, will run for governor in 2006. And Jacques will run for Congress, standing a much better chance of winning than she did in the special election of 2001 to replace the late Joe Moakley, a contest won by Steve Lynch.

There is a certain purity in this prediction: it is based on absolutely no knowledge whatsoever.

STAY TUNED. Check out the website of WBIX Radio (AM 1060), which is remaining on the air after dumping all of its employees yesterday. A shame ... but if the Brad Bleidt scandal proves anything, it's that the money was never there. (Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.)

WHY GOD MADE TABLOIDS. John Strahinich has a great story in today's Herald on some troubling fundraising questions involving the late Molly Bish and the Masons.

SPINELESS WIMPS. CBS and NBC tell the United Church of Christ that being welcoming is "too controversial."

posted at 11:17 AM | 10 comments | link


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

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