Monthly Archives: April 2008

In Middleborough, a curious candidate

All has been fairly quiet on the Middleborough casino front lately, but things may be about to heat up. It seems that former Brockton mayor Jack Yunits is a finalist for the $130,000-a-year town manager’s job. And it just so happens that he works as a consultant for the Liberty Square Group, the Boston-based public-relations and lobbying firm that has led the fight to build the world’s largest casino in Middleborough.

Oh, but not to worry, says search committee member Wayne Perkins, a former selectman and casino backer. Yunits may be taking money from a firm funded in part by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe and the South African casino moguls who are behind all this, but his work with Liberty Square is “strictly” limited to lobbying for a power plant in Brockton.

But according to a Liberty Square senior vice president Amy Lambiaso, Yunits has also lobbied for a Verizon-backed group that seeks to weaken the control local officials have over cable companies in communities like, you know, Middleborough. So much for Perkins’ “research.”

And let’s not forget that town officials are legally obligated to say nothing but nice things about the casino proposal. I suppose that task becomes easier if they simply hire a town manager who’s already getting paid by the casino’s backers.

The Brockton Enterprise covers the story here; the Cape Cod Times here.

As always: You can’t make this stuff up.

The nothing primary

Good grief. I’ve got to write something up for the Guardian in a few hours, and, right now, it looks like Pennsylvania’s going to count for nothing. Clinton is probably going to win by a blah margin — say, six or eight points. That’s enough for her to keep going, but not enough for her to have a realistic chance of winning the nomination, or to refill her depleted campaign coffers.

Here’s a theory. It strikes me that, over the last month, increasing numbers of Democrats have decided that Clinton has a better chance than Obama does of beating McCain in the fall. Yet it’s almost certainly too late for Clinton, and no one knows what to do about it. Thus we go on and on and on, and no one can say how it will end.

Mostly I’ve been watching MSNBC. Now Tim Russert and Harold Ford are drawing a line in the sand in Indiana. If Obama wins Indiana, it’s over. Unless it isn’t, of course.

Russert, Gitlin and Obama

This week the Columbia Journalism Review unveiled a new weekly feature called “Russert Watch,” to keep an eye on everyone’s favorite Beltway bloviator.

It’s not a bad idea. Tim Russert can be quite skilled at the art of the prosecutorial interview, but all too often his inquisitions devolve into “You said X in 1987. Why are you saying Y now?” Plus it ought to be a federal offense to have hacks like James Carville, Mary Matalin, Bob Shrum and Mike Murphy all on during the same week, as Russert does as frequently as he can.

But shouldn’t CJR have chosen someone other than Todd Gitlin to write the feature? Gitlin’s debut isn’t bad. But look at this: Gitlin publicly announced his support for Barack Obama back in February.

Gitlin is an academic moonlighting as a journalist. Yes, he’s a liberal opinion journalist. But even we opinion-mongers owe readers our independence.

I sometimes hear it said that journalists should say whom they’re voting for in the name of transparency. I disagree. Voting, and even stating your position on issues, is not the same as publicly supporting a candidate.

It’s not that you’re keeping your true beliefs a secret. It’s that it becomes much harder to evaluate someone honestly once you’ve identified yourself as a backer. Either you can’t bring yourself to criticize him, or you go overboard the other way so that you won’t be accused of being in the tank. Far better to keep it to yourself, even if your readers think they know how you voted — and even if they’re probably right.

Gitlin thought some of Russert’s questions to Obama strategist David Axelrod were unfair. So did I, given that one of them, as Gitlin notes, was based on the false claim that Obama had once refused to hold his hand over his heart during the Pledge of Allegiance.

But Gitlin should not be doing this for the CJR, of all publications. Media Matters for America, maybe.

Cavalcade of responses. Gitlin responds. I respond to his response.

Gitlin photo by David Shankbone, and republished here under a GNU Free Documentation License.

The deluge continues

Boston Daily rounds up blog chatter that baseball reporter Gordon Edes and basketball reporter Peter May could be getting ready to leave the Globe. Edes and May would join Jackie MacMullan in exiting the sports department. May, by the way, is married to former Globe columnist Eileen McNamara, a Pulitzer Prize winner who’s now at Brandeis University.

Recycling at a place called HuffPost

An appalled Boston Globe staffer alerted me yesterday to Mike Barnicle’s debut on the Huffington Post. “Who’s next, Jayson Blair?” my correspondent asked.

I read it, and the familiar hackery took me back many years, when we all read a columnist called Barnicle in a paper called the Globe in a city called Boston in a country called America. Barnicle’s conceit is an old one for him: Some guy died in a place called Vietnam 40 years ago, and, damn it, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton don’t even know who he was. But Mike Barnicle does.

Not to denigrate the memory of the soldier who died, Francis Xavier Kane. But Barnicle’s been writing this column since at least the 1980s. In Barnicle’s hands, these maudlin exercises invariably involve the use of the phrase “a place called,” an attempt to imbue his sentimental ramblings with a Hemingwayesque touch of manful dignity. For instance, in his HuffPost piece, Barnicle informs us that young Francis Kane met his end “a few miles west of a lethal place called Quang Tri City in a country called Vietnam.”

As I said, Barnicle has written this column many, many times over the years. What follows is a sampling. Believe me, it didn’t take long to put this together.

“He was killed in a firefight exactly two years ago at a place named Tuwayhah in a country called Iraq. He was 25.” (Boston Herald, April 14, 2005)

“All the simple things people take for granted disappeared for Peter Damon in the flash of an explosion early one morning last fall in a place called Camp Anaconda located in Balad, Iraq, north of Baghdad.” (Boston Herald, March 9, 2004)

“Lucas is 67, McCarthy is 83 and both hold the Medal of Honor, awarded for what they did on two different days of February 1945 at a place called Iwo Jima.” (Boston Globe, Oct. 26, 1995)

“He was south of Hue City, Vietnam, with the 9th Marines, in a place called Phu Bai.” (Boston Globe, Sept. 30, 1990)

“… a place called the Gulf of Tonkin during the summer of 1964.” (Boston Globe, Aug. 21, 1990)

“On Sept. 17, 1966 — two days before his 19th birthday — he found himself in a place called Cu Chi, which is about 15 miles west of Saigon, Republic of South Vietnam.” (March 11, 1990)

“His last name was Gonzalez and as he lay dying at 18 near a place called Con Thien in the Republic of South Vietnam nearly a quarter century ago.” (Boston Globe, April 25, 1989)

“… he has only one leg, the other having been blown off just over 20 years ago at a place called My Tho, a very pretty town on the Bassac River in the Mekong Delta …” (Boston Globe, Nov. 12, 1988)

“… almost exactly to this day, my friend Tommy Gill, then with the 3d Marines, nearly lost his life to gunfire at a place called Con Thien where fighting was fierce and constant.” (Boston Globe, Feb. 12, 1988)

“He was killed at a place called The Parrot’s Beak, fighting the communist army from Hanoi.” (Boston Globe, March 30, 1987)

“Wake me up and tell me no mother’s son ever died in a place called Vietnam.” (Boston Globe, Dec. 30, 1985)

“… two decades since other Marines, elements of the Ninth Division, walked ashore about three miles south of a place called DaNang …” (Boston Globe, April 26, 1985)

“His name was Anh Mai and he had come to the United States of America in 1979 from a place called Saigon in a country called Vietnam.” (April 15, 1985)

“The soldiers were fed three times in the nine days before the survivors emerged at a place called Stalag 3B near Frankfurt.” (Dec. 17, 1984)

“It is a letter, a letter written on Memorial Day of that year from a place called Khe Sanh in a country called Vietnam.” (Boston Globe, May 30, 1983)

“All of them came back except for Frankie Viola who caught a bullet on March 3, 1945, at a place called ‘Sulpher Island,’ known in history as Iwo Jima.” (Boston Globe, May 14, 1982)

“… razor blades spilled out of his mouth as he lectured those outside a Senate hearing room about the growing troubles in a place called El Salvador.” (Boston Globe, March 6, 1981)

“God is dead on the cover of Time magazine. Your son is dead in a place called Chu Lai. Who killed him, anyway?” (Boston Globe, Dec. 10, 1980)

“He hated the war. He was of the First Marines, India Company, Third Battalion, fought in a place called Quang Tri province, Vietnam and hated it.” (Boston Globe, Sept. 10, 1980)

McCain’s temperament

Last week I was at a dinner with a former national political reporter who was telling stories about John McCain’s volcanic temper. It was a social occasion, and I don’t feel at liberty to repeat what I heard. But let’s just say those stories fit well with yesterday’s Washington Post piece, by Mark Leahy, in which McCain is depicted as angrily berating fellow senators and lowly aides alike.

In 1999 I wrote an article for the Boston Phoenix that focused in large measure on McCain’s temper. My reporting left me surprised by the degree to which McCain was perceived differently by the national press corps, which, if anything, loved him even more then than it does today, and the Arizona media, which had suffered his insults and silences for years over their aggressive reporting on — among other things — the Keating Five scandal and Cindy McCain’s drug problem.

As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama tear each other to shreds, this is a story worth keeping an eye on.

The military-industrial complex

Retired generals and other high-ranking military officers get hired as defense contractors. Television networks pay them to offer analysis on the war in Iraq, both during the run-up and in the long aftermath. The Pentagon, which holds the power of life or death over said contractors, tells the generals what to say. And they do, despite secretly harboring doubts about the truth of what they’re being told about the success of the war. Eisenhower was more right than he ever knew.

This, folks, is as sickening a media scandal as we have seen in our lifetime. At least Judith Miller believed the lies Ahmed Chalabi was telling her about weapons and terrorism. At least Armstrong Williams and Maggie Gallagher were harming nothing but their own reputations when they took money to promote administration policy in their columns or, as Gallagher has tried to argue, on the side.

The New York Times’ David Barstow lays it all out today in horrifying detail. Nor was the Times itself immune, having run nine op-ed pieces by these bought-and-paid-for opinion-mongers.

Take a look at this excerpt about Robert Bevelacqua, a retired Green Berets and former analyst for Fox News:

Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had “smoking gun” proof.

” ‘We don’t have any hard evidence,’ ” Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. “We are looking at ourselves saying, ‘What are we doing?’ “

Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.

Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. [William] Cowan [another Fox analyst and a retired Marine colonel], had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.

“There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” Mr. Bevelacqua said. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.”

What can you possibly say about the moral sensibility that informs Bevelacqua’s remarks?

The first major media figure who’ll be popping up today is Tim Russert, who’s pictured in the Times piece (above) surrounded by retired military officers on the set of “Meet the Press.” He ought to open by apologizing and promising a thorough investigation of NBC News’ use of this corrupt punditry. Next week’s show should be devoted to an hour-long self-examination. And every other network should do the same.

What’s so repellant about this is that it robs us of our ability to govern ourselves. Longtime Media Nation readers know that I’ve always been conflicted about the war — against it ahead of time, but, once we were in, hoping for a decent outcome.

I still haven’t abandoned that hope. But this morning I find myself wondering how much of that hope is based on paid-for lies that I mistook for honest analysis.