Monthly Archives: February 2006

Matalin denies reality

Who are you going to believe? Republican spinner Mary Matalin or your own lying eyes and ears?

I practically drove off the Southeast Expressway today while listening to the podcast of yesterday’s “Meet the Press.” Tim Russert began a segment on media coverage of Dick Cheney’s errant shot by offering two specific examples of Cheney partisans’ blaming the accident on the victim, Harry Whittington.

First, Russert noted, was ranch owner Katharine Armstrong. Let’s go to the transcript.

RUSSERT: The vice president said that he talked to Katharine Armstrong about getting the story out. And the story that first appeared was this: “After shooting two quail, ranch owner Katharine Armstrong said Harry Whittington dropped back to pick them up, but he did not vocally announce to the others when he rejoined the group. The mistake exposed him to getting shot. ‘It’s incumbent on him,’ Armstrong said. ‘He did not do that.'”

Next up, Russert observed, was White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who said of Armstrong, “She pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington when it came to notifying the others that he was there.”

RUSSERT: Initially, there was — seemed to be an attempt to blame Mr. Whittington. Was the vice president part of that? Aware of it?

MATALIN: Absolutely not. When I spoke to the vice president Sunday morning, he made it more than clear that it was his fault, no matter what the conditions, no matter how much the shared risk. That this should not be blamed on Harry. What happens here is that’s not the first account. That’s the wire account of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. The very first account, Katharine Armstrong just lays out the facts, and she includes in there how apologetic the vice president was at the immediate scene.

What happens as these stories go from the local to the national is you stop giving out facts. You stop answering questions, and you start making denials. “No, Cheney wasn’t drunk.” “No, it wasn’t Cheney’s fault.” So as it progressed through the week, that’s what happened.

If you go back to Katharine Armstrong’s original description, given in context to locals who understand the frequency of hunting accidents, unfortunately, the culture of Texas, through the eyes of a person who actually saw, who has an expertise, there was no fault described. She laid out the facts: What Mr. Whittington had done, what the vice president had done, and included, clearly, the vice president’s immediate reaction, which was profuse apologies.

Russert, incredulous, came back with, “But they were quoting her directly…” He didn’t push. He didn’t have to. Matalin had already showed herself to be winging it in the most disingenuous manner imaginable. Armstrong and McClellan are on the record as having tried to blame the accident on Whittington. It was actually Cheney himself who put a stop to that ridiculousness. Now Matalin would have us believe that the blame game never happened. Amazing.

Instant flashback. Here, from Feb. 13, is the New York Times’ even more specific account of Armstrong’s blaming Whittington:

“This all happened pretty quickly,” Ms. Armstrong said in a telephone interview from her ranch. Mr. Whittington, she said, “did not announce — which would be protocol — ‘Hey, it’s me, I’m coming up,'” she said.

“He didn’t do what he was supposed to do,” she added, referring to Mr. Whittington. “So when a bird flushed and the vice president swung in to shoot it, Harry was where the bird was.”

And Whittington looks so much like a quail, don’t you think?

Instant update. Yes, I should have checked Josh Marshall first. Anyway, here is what he wrote about this yesterday.

Condemning Jewish journalists

Northeastern University journalism professor Laurel Leff has discovered something that’s both remarkable and disturbing. In the late 1930s, when American colleges and universities were admitting Jewish doctors and lawyers from Nazi Germany in order to save them from persecution and worse, journalism schools were asked to do the same. And not a single one did.

In today’s New York Times, Katharine Seelye reports on a petition drive inspired by Leff’s research “asking the Newspaper Association of America to acknowledge publicly that its predecessor organization in the 1930’s ‘was wrong to turn its back on Jewish refugee journalists fleeing Hitler.'” Leff tells Seelye, “There is no question that anti-Semitism influenced those decisions. It was not the only factor, but it was an important factor.”

Last week, Leff discussed her findings on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” You can listen to the story here.

Leff is the author of “Buried by The Times: The Holocaust and America’s Most Important Newspaper,” the definitive examination of the New York Times’ failure to cover the Holocaust with the prominence and sense of urgency that it deserved.

Forever Young

Yesterday we — my son, Tim, his friend Jay, and Jay’s father, Steve — went to see the new Neil Young concert film, “Heart of Gold,” in Kendall Square. It was well worth it. The first half of the movie focuses on Young’s most recent CD, “Prairie Wind,” the latest in his occasional series of mostly acoustic albums, including “Harvest” (1971) and “Harvest Moon” (1992).

Despite the poignancy of the moment — Young’s father had recently died, and Young himself was recovering from surgery for a brain aneurysm — “Prairie Wind” is not quite prime Neil. But the performance, at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, is warm and moving. And the second half of the film is even better, featuring Young classics such as “I Am a Child,” “Heart of Gold,” “Old Man” and “Comes a Time.” (Somehow he was allowed to get away with not doing “After the Gold Rush.”)

Filmmaker Jonathan Demme is unobstrusive, although his extreme close-up shots do get to be wearying after a while. Yes, Young is old and jowly; we get it. We’ll all be there soon enough. Thankfully, though, “Heart of Gold” is mainly about the music.

The movie also prompted me to reflect on what a varied career Young has had. That he was able to build a lengthy concert around his acoustic material without even a hint that he is also the original proto-punk rocker is remarkable.

I’ve always been a middling Neil Young fan. The only Young album I’ve got in digital is “Freedom” (1989). The vinyl versions of “Harvest,” “Decade” (1977) and “Rust Never Sleeps” (1978) are sitting on shelf, waiting someday to be ripped.

But there’s no doubt that he’s always been a musician of great integrity, always willing to experiment and leave past successes behind. Along with Bob Dylan and very few others, he’s a 1960s veterans who’s still got something to say. Long may he run.

Kristof on Yahoo

Nicholas Kristof on the relative sins (sub. req.) of Yahoo and Google in sucking up to the Chinese:

[I]t’s a mistake to think of all the American companies as equal sinners, for Google appears to have done nothing wrong at all….

Yahoo sold its soul and is a national disgrace. It is still dissembling, and nobody should touch Yahoo until it provides financially for the families of the three men it helped lock up and establishes annual fellowships in their names to bring Web journalists to America on study programs.

It seems pretty clear that everyone is beating up on Google because it’s the 800-pound gorilla, and because it’s “Don’t Be Evil” motto makes it such a ripe target.

My earlier take.

What got into Pat Roberts?

Crucial to the Bush administration’s defense of the NSA wiretapping program has been to paint opponents as partisan Democrats who are weak on terrorism — and to pretend that Republican opponents such as Sen. Arlen Specter, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, don’t really exist.

So for Sen. Pat Roberts, the Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, to switch sides is nothing short of a bombshell. Roberts has been among the most vociferous defenders of the White House. Just yesterday, the New York Times ran a tough editorial about Roberts headlined “Doing the President’s Dirty Work.”

Today, the Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports that Roberts now wants the spying program brought under the purview of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Essentially, Roberts is acknowledging that President Bush violated the 1978 FISA law by spying on people in the United States without obtaining warrants from the FISA court.

In discussing how the law ought to be changed, Roberts is quoted as saying, “I think it should come before the FISA court, but I don’t know how it works. You don’t want to have a situation where you have capability that doesn’t work well with the FISA court, in terms of speed and agility and hot pursuit. So we have to solve that problem.” What Roberts now seeks, Stolberg writes, is “a move President Bush has argued is not necessary.”

Given Roberts’ turnaround, I thought it would be interesting to roll the clock back to those golden days of — oh, last Sunday, when he got quite testy on NBC’s “Meet the Press” upon being challenged by host Tim Russert on the legality of the no-warrant wiretaps. The transcript is here. A few highlights from Chairman Roberts follow.

If you wanted, you could simply introduce an amendment during whatever we’re considering and saying, “Let’s de-authorize the program.” Or you can say, “I oppose the program and I want another briefing” and make those points in those sessions. That was not done. As a matter of fact, just to be very frank, my recollection is that virtually everybody that received those briefings was comfortable with it, I’m going to say thought it was legal, and that actually knew that this was a very crucial, crucial tool of intelligence that we have to have. It is a military capability to stop an attack on the country, I can’t think of anything more important.

The president has the constitutional authority. It rises above any law passed by the Congress. President Roosevelt did that during World War II. Every president has done that under the Constitution, saying that the president has the primary duty to protect our national security.

We’re to the point now where we’re about to lose the capability. That’s the big issue here in terms of going deaf. You’re right back where you started from with a president’s authority that he has under the Constitution, and you have that — the very same thing that you have now.

No doubt Roberts could torture his words and argue that his new stance is perfectly consistent with what he said on “Meet the Press.” But he’s now made it that much harder for the White House to try to cast this as a partisan issue.

Yahoo stands alone

None of the Internet companies called before Congress this week to defend their business practices in China deserves a good-conduct medal. But distinctions are important. Which leads Media Nation to ask: Isn’t Yahoo’s behavior quite a bit more troublesome than that of Google, Microsoft or Cisco?

The latter three companies stand accused — all right, are guilty — of enabling the Chinese government’s censorship laws by blocking terms such as “democracy” and “human rights.” But only Yahoo, as far as we know, turned over information that enabled the Chinese authorities to arrest a dissident. According to Reporters Without Borders, Yahoo’s actions led to the 2003 arrest of Li Zhi, an anti-corruption crusader who was handed an eight-year prison sentence. The Paris-based organization adds that Li Zhi is not alone in being victimized by Yahoo’s rapaciousness.

What’s more, according to this article in USA Today, Yahoo, by turning over a majority share of its Chinese operation to a Chinese company, may have insulated itself in a way that is truly sleazy. (Disclosure: I own a few shares of Microsoft.)

Yahoo’s actions strike me as magnitudes worse than those of the other companies. By lumping them all together, I fear we may lose sight of exactly how awful Yahoo’s behavior has been.

Cybersquatting on Blute

If Peter Blute really does run against Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate, he could have a bit of trouble on the Internet front.

The domain name peterblute.com was registered in July 2004 by someone who appears to be a prankster. According this “whois” search, the domain is owned by a W. Bates of Boylston, who uses the e-mail address NotRobi (at) roncrews.com. Ron Crews is a notorious anti-gay activist. Robi happens to be the name of Blute’s wife.

The mysterious Mr. (or Ms.) Bates owns roncrews.com as well. No surprise there.

As you will see by clicking here, the parody Ron Crews Web site is up and running. But there’s nothing when you try to go to peterblute.com. Not yet, anyway.

UMass rallies for Jill Carroll

Here is how the Daily Collegian of UMass Amherst covered yesterday’s rally in support of kidnapped journalist Jill Carroll, a UMass alumnus. The rally, which drew more than 100 people, was sponsored by the Collegian, where Carroll was a reporter during her student days.

On the Christian Science Monitor’s Carroll weblog, you can watch the one of the public-service announcements being shown on Iraqi television that urges Carroll’s release.

Finally, while searching for something else, I came across a tribute that Carroll wrote in 2004 about a classmate named Casey Kane, who had died. Here is part of what Carroll wrote:

I spent the “greatest day ever” with her playing softball and eating hotdogs in my backyard at the one-time-only Collegian picnic. Years later she sent me a picture of all of us from that day, festooned in the rhinestones and glitter she knows I love. She came in the beautiful green dress she wore in Holyoke’s Irish festival pagent in (whose name escapes me) to the Collegian formal at my house—an event she conceived. We danced so hard the floorboards flexed and pictures were knocked off my neighbors’ walls.

In honoring her classmate, Carroll showed herself to be a compassionate and devoted friend, full of life, a keen observer of the world around her. With luck, Carroll will be coming home soon.

The shrinking north

And no, I’m not referring to the polar ice caps.

Jay Fitzgerald reports in today’s Boston Herald that CNHI — the Alabama-based newspaper chain that scooped up the Eagle-Tribune papers last year — is suspected of retaliating against employees who were involved in a failed union organizing campaign by sticking them in far-flung bureaus or saddling them with night shifts. A company official denies all.

The papers involved are the Eagle-Tribune of Lawrence (well, North Andover), the Salem News, the Gloucester Daily Times and the Daily News of Newburyport.

Regardless of what happened — and I hope someone gets to the bottom of this — it’s sad to ponder the decline of the newspaper scene north of Boston over the past decade.

A dozen or so years ago, the region was dominated by three independently owned papers: the Eagle-Tribune, the Salem News (then the Salem Evening News) and the Sun of Lowell. Ottaway, a division of Dow Jones, owned three smaller dailies: the Beverly-Peabody Times and the Gloucester and Newburyport papers.

Today, those six papers have become five (the Beverly-Peabody Times was merged into the Salem News), and the three local owners have all given way to out-of-state corporations.

And it could get worse. Boston Herald publisher Pat Purcell has his flagship tabloid and Community Newspaper Co. subsidiary on the block, which could result in out-of-town ownership for another 100 or so papers. Among those rumored to be interested: CNHI.

Entwistle and excess

Is the Entwistle murder saga the biggest story of this or any other time? That was the rather overheated question tonight on “My TV Prime,” a New Hampshire talk show hosted by Democratic politico Deborah “Arnie” Arnesen. I was a guest along with Boston Herald columnist Margery Eagan (sub. req.) and defense attorney John Swomley. Just as Eagan and I were wrapping up, we disagreed. “Take it outside,” Arnesen instructed us. So here I go.

I expressed the opinion that stories such as Entwistle are obsessively followed by just a small subset of viewers who gorge on cable news programs — and that, therefore, the end of civilization is not at hand. No, I heard Eagan say as we were fading out; the ratings for those shows are “huge.”

Well, then. Here are the audiences for such shows on Wednesday night (a big Entwistle night), as reported by the redoubtable TVNewser:

  • Nancy Grace, CNN Headline News, 8 p.m., 545,000
  • Rita Cosby, MSNBC, 9 p.m., 346,000
  • Greta Van Susteren, Fox News, 10 p.m., 1.26 million

Not chickenfeed. But the combined audience for the three network nightly newscasts is more than 20 million, and it can approach 30 million when there’s major news breaking. The Tyndall Report right now is a bit behind, but Entwistle was pretty big news at the beginning of February, which is when it gathered its most recent numbers. Yet it didn’t even move the needle on the nets.

Similarly, NPR claims that its drive-time newscasts, “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered,” are the second- and third-most-listened-to radio programs in the United States. And NPR has not exactly been a bastion of Entwistle excess.

So I’ll stick with what I said: Though there’s undoubtedly more Entwistle coverage out there than is absolutely necessary, it is primarily a phenomenon of low-rated cable news shows that get far more attention from media-watchers than they deserve given their small audiences.

Anyone who’s watching Entwistle coverage rather than presumably more nutritious fare is doing so by choice.