Monthly Archives: January 2006

Jerry Williams and seat belts

We should light a candle for the late Boston talk-show host Jerry Williams today, as the Legislature and Gov. Mitt Romney are on the verge of tightening the state’s seat-belt law.

In the 1980s, Williams — then the king of afternoon drive time on WRKO Radio (AM 680) — whipped the public into hysteria over plans to make seat-belt use mandatory. Williams, a staunch civil libertarian, saw the law as an infringement on personal freedom. I disagreed then and disagree now, seeing a seat-belt law as no different from making drivers stop at red lights. But I agreed with him on principle, and cheered on his equally vociferous efforts to end such police-state it’s-good-for-you tactics as highway road blocks, where you’d be handed a pamphlet on the hazards of drunk driving — and, of course, given the once-over.

No one could make the switchboard at the Statehouse light up the way Williams could, but he was fighting a losing battle. Eventually, when his ratings started to slip and his show was rescheduled, a mandatory seat-belt law was passed, although it couldn’t be enforced unless you were observed doing something else, like speeding. The stronger law now under consideration will eliminate that anomaly.

Here is what Tony Schinella wrote about Williams at the time of his death nearly three years ago. Schinella, a one-time candidate for the Boston City Council, is now program and news director at WKXL Radio (AM 1450) in Concord, N.H. And here is anti-tax activist Barbara Anderson’s tribute.

Herald libel case continues

On to the appeals court: the libel-suit saga involving the Boston Herald and Judge Ernest Murphy continues, as the trial judge, Charles Johnson, has refused the Herald’s requests to act in response to Murphy’s over-the-top letters to Herald publisher Pat Purcell. Phoenix coverage here; Globe coverage here; Herald coverage here.

Calling the shots

Dan Shaughnessy, the Red Sox’ co-general manager:

[John] Henry and [Larry] Lucchino were in Phoenix yesterday at the owners’ meetings. I spoke with Henry late in the afternoon before he boarded a jet to fly home to Boston. I told him the same thing I had told him in December. I thought it looked as if he could not make a decision. I thought he should either fire Lucchino or tell Epstein to get lost.

Whatever happened to journalists who ask questions? Amazing.

Tony Massarotti’s take is worth reading, even if he doesn’t strut around barking orders at the Sox’ principal owner.

Not being evil

Good for Google, which is living up to its “Don’t Be Evil” slogan by refusing to go along with the Justice Department’s anti-pornography crusade. Supposedly the government is not looking for personal data, which is why Yahoo, AOL and MSN were willing to play along. But this is a bedrock liberty issue, and Google shouldn’t retreat.

Still, this serves as a reminder of the kinds of data Google and other Internet services keep on all of us. It’s not easy to link the data to any one individual, but it can be done, as I reported a year ago. As Kevin Bankston, a lawyer for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says:

The only way Google can reasonably protect the privacy of its users from such legal demands now and in the future is to stop collecting so much information about its users, delete information that it does collect as soon as possible, and take real steps to minimize how much of the information it collects is traceable back to individual Google users. If Google continues to gather and keep so much information about its users, government and private attorneys will continue to try and get it.

Wired.com has posted some advice on how to keep your private data private.

WRKO’s local moves

It’s so rare to see radio stations move toward quality local programming and away from syndicated screaming that attention must be paid. So here is the latest press release from WRKO Radio (AM 680):

WRKO AM 680, Boston’s talk station, brings together three powerful business news sources — Boston Globe “Downtown” business columnist Steve Bailey, Boston Herald Business Editor Cosmo Macero, and the Wall Street Journal — to create “Boston Business Today,” a local news package which started Monday, January 16.

“Boston Business Today” will cover Boston’s business community with news and thoughtful analysis hourly during “Boston This Morning” and during “The Howie Carr Show.”

Macero and Bailey, two of the city’s top business journalists, will bring to “Boston Business Today” fresh business news and their view of important business stories. Macero will be on live at 6:37 a.m. every weekday, and Bailey will be on at 7:37 a.m. every weekday.

Joe Connolly of the Wall Street Journal will provide hourly business news updates, creating in-depth Greater Boston and New England business coverage to match the Wall Street Journal’s legendary reputation. Connolly’s reports will air during newsbreaks at 5:30, 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30 a.m. during “Boston This Morning,” and then at 4:30 and 5:30 p.m. during “The Howie Carr Show.”

“This is part of WRKO’s plan to provide Greater Boston with the best local coverage, whether it’s news, politics, business, lifestyle or the Boston Celtics,” said WRKO Operations Director Brian Whittemore. “We’re bringing together three business heavy-hitters to create a must-listen package for anyone in Boston business.”

This brings Bailey back to the airwaves following the meltdown of Brad Bleidt, the sticky-fingered former owner of WBIX Radio (AM 1060), where Bailey and fellow Globe columnist Charlie Stein (who recently took the buyout and left the paper) had an hour-long morning show. (‘BIX is still around, but it’s a ghost of its old self.)

But that’s not all. Mark Jurkowitz reports here on a new substance-abuse-recovery program that WRKO is planning to unveil on Sunday afternoons. I’m skeptical, to put it mildly, but it’s local and it sounds well-intentioned.

And this comes not long after the station replaced “Blute & Scotto” with “Boston This Morning,” which, despite the unexplained jettisoning of Peter Blute, strikes me as a reasonably high-minded attempt to put together something of substance. No one’s going to confuse it with NPR, but we’ve already got that.

Best of all, WRKO recently bumped syndicated hate-monger Michael Savage from 7 to 10 p.m. in order to make way for “Taste of Boston.” Not really my thing, but the fewer listeners Savage has, the better.

Restatement of purpose

Anonymous (a very common name, I’ve noticed) claims that I “missed” Al Gore’s speech the other day. I did not, although I concede that I chose not to write about it. Which raises a point I’ve been meaning to make about Media Nation, or about any blog.

I look for items, mostly but not entirely media-related, that interest me, and that I hope will interest a few readers as well. (A political speech like Gore’s doesn’t cut it, even though I hold Gore in reasonably high esteem.) I don’t feel obligated to post anything, with the possible exception of follow-ups to previous items — especially if it’s to correct the record.

Media Nation is likely to be sporadic over the next several months, because my teaching schedule this semester has made it hard for me to keep on top of my reading as much as I’d like — at least until later in the day. There may be days when I post quite a bit; there may be days when I don’t post at all.

For what it’s worth: I consider anything I write to be fair game, so fire away. But I don’t consider anything I choose not to write about to be fair game at all, and I hope you won’t either. There’s a flood outside, and I’m sitting here with a thimble.

Two rights about media bias

Romenesko today highlights a debate between liberal columnist/blogger Eric Alterman and conservative commentator Tucker Carlson on media bias — if it exists, and whether it leans left or right. As you might expect, Carlson argues that the bias trends liberal, Alterman that it’s conservative.

They are both right. As Carlson accurately observes, the elite media — especially in big-city newsrooms — hold views far to the left of average Americans on such issues as gay marriage, reproductive choice and gun control. Now, you and I might think it’s to the credit of folks who work for those media institutions, but there’s no doubt that conservative views on such cultural and social issues are rare within the media, and common elsewhere.

And Alterman is absolutely right that the same elite media want nothing to do with organized labor, and that they’re at least partly responsible for the fact that a large plurality of Americans mistakenly believes Iraq had something to do with 9/11. Moreover, as Alterman wrote in his book “What Liberal Media?,” the same liberal journalists who say they vote for Democratic presidential candidates have made a full-time sport out of torturing them: giving Bill Clinton a far rougher time than the public did over his personal failings; spreading untruths about Al Gore such as falsely claiming he’d said he’d “invented the Internet”; and providing too much (i.e., any) credence to the swift-boat liars who tried to bring down John Kerry.

So even though I think Carlson and Alterman are both right, I think Alterman is more right on what really matters: how the media cover electoral politics, and why that coverage works to the benefit of Republicans.

Literary truth and literal truth

There is no “controversy” over James Frey’s admission that his book “A Million Little Pieces” is not the nonfiction memoir he had claimed it to be; only the exposure of a literary crime. There’s been a voluminous amount of commentary since last week. Michiko Kakutani’s, in today’s New York Times, is especially good.

Bloviation over whether a memoir has to be entirely true is especially troubling because, at root, nonfiction — whether it’s memoir, history, biography or social science — is a form of journalism, or at least its first cousin. If it isn’t true, it’s worthless, regardless of its literary merits. (I’m not talking about an inadvertent error or two. I’m talking about intent.)

Several years ago I published my one and, so far, only book — a nonfiction work on the culture of dwarfism that combined social criticism, interviews, medical and science journalism, historical research and, yes, memoir. Titled “Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter’s Eyes” (that’s where the memoir comes in), it is currently out of print, although I have some hopes for a paperback edition.

Readers can like what I wrote or not. But the one promise I made every effort to deliver on was that “Little People” would be a work of nonfiction. I taped hours upon hour of interviews. I kept reconstructed quotes from years past to a minimum, and explained their limits in the footnotes. When my editor asked for more of our daughter, Becky’s, voice, I didn’t try to rely on the vagaries of memory. Rather, I sat down with Becky — who was 10 at the time — and told her exactly what I was up to. She could have cooperated or not. Fortunately, she wanted to do it, and we had our first serious conversation about her dwarfism. With a tape recorder rolling.

There are so many authors trying to do it right that it’s depressing to see someone like Frey succeed by cheating. The diminution of trust that accompanies such a revelation harms all of us — readers and, of course, writers, who have a hard enough time getting published and noticed as it is.

Rev. Ray

Right after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, the Washington Post published a report on people who thought the disaster was God’s retribution. Post writer Alan Cooperman led with this:

Steve Lefemine, an antiabortion activist in Columbia, S.C., was looking at a full-color satellite map of Hurricane Katrina when something in the swirls jumped out at him: the image of an 8-week-old fetus.

“In my belief, God judged New Orleans for the sin of shedding innocent blood through abortion,” said Lefemine, who e-mailed the flesh-toned weather map to fellow activists across the country and put a stark message on the answering machine of his organization, Columbia Christians for Life.

Well, yesterday New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who did so much to spread false rumors of rapes and killings last fall, was at it again, making common cause with Lefemine. Only Nagin’s God is upset about a, uh, different set of issues. John Pope writes about Nagin’s Martin Luther King Day speech in today’s New Orleans Times-Picayune:

“This city will be a majority African-American city. It’s the way God wants it to be,” Nagin said. “You can’t have it no other way. It wouldn’t be New Orleans.”
Nagin’s remarks were tucked into a wide-ranging speech, delivered on the steps of the federal courthouse, in which the mayor related a dream conversation he had with the slain civil rights leader.

In addition to discussing New Orleans’ reconstruction, unity and numerous issues in the black community, in his speech Nagin attributed the recent hurricanes striking the United States to a God who is “mad at America” for waging a war in Iraq based on false pretenses. Nagin said God also is upset at the black community for not taking better care of its people….

“We ask black people…. It’s time for us to come together,” said the mayor, who is black.

“It’s time for us to rebuild a New Orleans, the one that should be a chocolate New Orleans,” he said. “And I don’t care what people are saying in Uptown or wherever they are. This city will be chocolate at the end of the day.”

Nagin also said that last year’s devastating hurricanes were signs of God’s wrath.

“Surely God is mad at America,” he said.

I think we finally have the definitive answer to the question of whether we need to take Ray Nagin seriously.

Just add money

Earlier this afternoon I stopped by my local Apple store, hoping one of the “geniuses,” as Apple actually calls them, would accept the offering of my iBook-from-hell and ship it out for the fifth time in less than three years. (This time it’s the video — again.)

I was unsuccessful. The Genius Bar was booked for the day, and my rather heated argument that I shouldn’t have to wait behind a bunch of people trying to figure out how to turn on their new iPods when I had an oft-broken computer to ship out failed to persuade the smug young manager.

While I was waiting, though, I did see something incredibly cool on the back-of-the-store projection screen — a Mac version of Google Earth. As soon as I got home, I fired up the family iMac and went looking for the download. Alas — it requires OS X 10.4, and we’ve only got 10.3.

Is this really necessary? Does Google Earth absolutely require something that’s only available in 10.4, or did Google’s programmers just not want to make the effort? By way of analogy, it’s interesting that the latest version of Firefox, an open-source browser, works just fine with 10.3, whereas if you want to keep Apple’s inferior Safari up to date you’ve got to upgrade to 10.4.

Google Maps offers much of what Google Earth has, and it doesn’t require extra software. I guess it will have to do for now.

Instant update! Google says, “Currently, Google Earth isn’t supported on the Mac OS 10.3.9 or earlier versions. We’re working on this issue and hope to have Google Earth available for more Mac OS versions in the near future.” Very nice. All is forgiven.