Monthly Archives: January 2006

Globe porn link

I’m working in a public library right now, so obviously I have to be very careful about what’s on my screen. It might get me kicked out, for instance, if a librarian notices that I’ve gotten too wrapped up in today’s “New England in Brief” column in the Boston Globe.

Because I might read the item headlined “Fire destroys another adult video store.” And I might notice that some bonehead (or possibly some boneheaded software algorithm) built in a link to Amazing.net, the adult video store in question. And then I might click on it, and — well, you’ll see.

Update: Media Nation gets results! As Adam Gaffin notes, the link has now been removed.

Defining trashiness down

Or is that up? I’m not sure.

In today’s New York Times Book Review, David Kamp writes about Norah Vincent’s “Self-Made Man,” in which the author spends a year disguised as a guy and chronicles the experience. The book itself sounds pretty interesting. Vincent is a lesbian, so there are layers upon layers here, especially given that — in her male disguise — she goes on several dates with women.

This morning, though, I come not to praise Vincent but to bury Kamp. Here is what he says about Vincent’s experience in a men’s bowling league:

The resultant chapter is as tender and unpatronizing a portrait of America’s “white trash” underclass as I’ve ever read. “They took people at face value,” writes Vincent of Ned’s teammates, a plumber, an appliance repairman and a construction worker. “If you did your job or held up your end, and treated them with the passing respect they accorded you, you were all right.” Neither dumb lugs nor proletarian saints, Ned’s bowling buddies are wont to make homophobic cracks and pay an occasional visit to a strip club, but they surprise Vincent with their lack of rage and racism, their unflagging efforts to improve Ned’s atrocious bowling technique and “the absolute reverence with which they spoke about their wives,” one of whom is wasting away from cancer.

I quote this at some length to show that Vincent apparently gets it, even though Kamp doesn’t. In Kamp’s mind, a plumber, a repairman and a construction worker — all of them employed in what has traditionally been well-paid blue-collar work — constitute “America’s ‘white trash’ underclass.” What world is Kamp living in? Media Nation does not generally engage in reverse snobbery, but I can’t let this go.

Plumbers, especially, need to be highly educated in their trade, and are — along with folks such as electricians and carpenters — members of a rather select group of skilled craftsmen who can and do charge a lot of money for their services. Or hasn’t Kamp called a plumber lately? Kamp’s casual dismissal of working people as “trash” says a lot about what’s wrong with a certain type of Manhattan-centered elitism.

The tagline reads, “David Kamp, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, is at work on a book about the American food world, to be published later this year.”

Keep him away from diners.

The media’s terrorism test

President Bush’s top two political advisers said on Friday that they intend to conduct the 2006 congressional campaign on the basis of an appalling lie about the Democrats. Will the media call them on it? Or are they too hidebound by the traditional rules of objectivity to get beyond their characteristic “on the one hand/on the other hand” style of coverage?

I’m all for fair, neutral coverage of politics. But it also has to be tough-minded. So when White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove and Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman claim — falsely — that Democrats oppose efforts to spy on Al Qaeda, that lie needs to be pointed out.

Unfortunately, our two leading newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, are off to a bad start. Here’s what Adam Nagourney writes in today’s Times:

“The United States faces a ruthless enemy,” Mr. Rove said, “and we need a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats.”

“Let me be as clear as I can be. President Bush believes if Al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they’re calling and why,” he said, referring to the wiretapping program. “Some important Democrats clearly disagree.”

Nagourney treats Rove’s remarks — made at a meeting of the RNC — as straight-up event coverage, and doesn’t even make an effort at ordinary objectivity in terms of getting comment from the Democrats. In the Washington Post, Dan Balz manages to go one better, quoting Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean as saying that Rove should resign over whatever his role was in the Valerie Plame matter. But Balz also reports this without rebuttal:

Mehlman and Rove … defended Bush’s use of warrantless eavesdropping to gather intelligence about possible terrorist plots. “Do Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean really think that when the NSA is listening in on terrorists planning attacks on America, they need to hang up when those terrorists dial their sleeper cells in the United States?” Mehlman asked. Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the House minority leader.

I assume you’ve figured it out already, but if you haven’t, let me spell it out. Not one Democrat — at least none I’m aware of — has objected to having the National Security Agency spy on suspected terrorists. The sole objection has been to the way the Bush administration has gone about doing it. The administration has almost certainly broken the law by carrying out its wiretapping campaign without bothering to seek warrants from a judge under the terms of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), even though such requests are rarely turned down, and even though warrants can be applied for after the fact when there’s a genuine emergency.

Is it possible that FISA needs to be changed to make it easier for the White House to conduct such surveillance? Well, perhaps. Media Nation makes no claims to being an expert on such matters. But such a change would have to be approved by Congress. Yet when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was asked about that, he replied, “We have had discussions with Congress in the past — certain members of Congress — as to whether or not FISA could be amended to allow us to adequately deal with this kind of threat, and we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible.”

So much for the judicial and legislative branches of government. The White House is simply going to do what it wants to do.

The Rove-Mehlman sleight-of-hand is to cast Democrats as being against spying on terrorists if they so much as dare point out that the way the White House is going about its surveillance program is illegal. Never mind that this is false. Never mind that there are also outraged Republicans, such as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter.

This is a vital moment for truth-telling by the news media. When Republicans accuse Democrats of being opposed to spying, reporters and editors can let it go, blandly get “the other side” — or point out that no Democrat has said any such thing. Which is it going to be? (Of course, Democrats such as U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York are fair game when they ludicrously compare Bush and his advisers to Nazis.)

Polls suggest that when Americans are asked whether the White House should have obtained warrants, they agree — but that when they are asked if it’s all right to spy on “suspected terrorists” without warrants, they agree with that, too. This inconsistency has given Bush’s defenders an opening they are now intent on exploiting.

Rove and Mehlman have hit upon a powerful tactic to turn what should be an overwhelming negative into a positive. If any Democrat comes out against spying altogether, that’s one thing. But the media have an obligation not to go along with attempts to cast Democrats who oppose official lawbreaking as soft on terrorism.

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.