Monthly Archives: March 2009

Hard times for the Times

In my latest for The Guardian, I take a look at Mark Bowden’s exceedingly tough Vanity Fair profile of New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Bowden may be right in arguing that Sulzberger is not up to the job. But given the implosion of the newspaper business, would better leadership have made all that much difference?

What’s wrong with CNN

CNN has fallen to third place in prime time. It’s an easy way out to argue that it’s because CNN is doing news while Fox and MSNBC are doing talk. But it seems to me that CNN has three problems of its own making:

  • It’s given up on the 8 p.m. slot, where Campbell Brown is caught between Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann. Has anyone ever watched Brown’s show? She certainly isn’t compelling enough as part of “The Best Political Team on Television” (or at least the largest) to make me want to check her out.
  • Larry King at 9 p.m. — you can’t live with him, you can’t live without him. CNN’s fortunes have been tied up with King for so many years that no one dares to mess with his show. But it’s not what it used to be. I’d move it to 8 and try to come up with something else at 9. An intelligent political talk show, perhaps? If that’s not too oxymoronic?
  • At 10 p.m., CNN ought to clean up. Its best anchor, Anderson Cooper, is up against Greta Van Susteren and the Olbermann rerun. Trouble is, Cooper’s newscast lacks a distinct identity. And because it’s two hours long, he spends way too much time flogging stuff that will be coming up after 11, when people are either in bed or watching Jon Stewart. I’d cut it to an hour and make it a consistent, signature newscast. Then again, that’s what Aaron Brown was doing in that time slot, and I would have kept him and deployed Cooper elsewhere.

Problem solved. Next?

Marty Baron is not tweeting

So what did I find in my inbox this morning? A message from someone named Marty Baron, letting me know that he was following me on Twitter. Well, I started following him and sent him a private note to make sure it was really him.

As it turns out, it’s not Boston Globe editor Marty Baron, but someone pretending to be him. “It’s not me,” Baron told me by e-mail. Such gamesmanship is far from unusual on Twitter, though it looks like the normally savvy Adam Gaffin was taken in.

Why can’t everyone be as honest as Fake Rahm Emanuel?

Shorter Freeman Dyson

He doesn’t deny global warming. He likes global warming. From Nicholas Dawidoff’s profile in the New York Times Magazine:

Dyson agrees with the prevailing view that there are rapidly rising carbon-dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by human activity. To the planet, he suggests, the rising carbon may well be a MacGuffin, a striking yet ultimately benign occurrence in what Dyson says is still “a relatively cool period in the earth’s history.” The warming, he says, is not global but local, “making cold places warmer rather than making hot places hotter.” Far from expecting any drastic harmful consequences from these increased temperatures, he says the carbon may well be salubrious — a sign that “the climate is actually improving rather than getting worse,” because carbon acts as an ideal fertilizer promoting forest growth and crop yields. “Most of the evolution of life occurred on a planet substantially warmer than it is now,” he contends, “and substantially richer in carbon dioxide.” Dyson calls ocean acidification, which many scientists say is destroying the saltwater food chain, a genuine but probably exaggerated problem. Sea levels, he says, are rising steadily, but why this is and what dangers it might portend “cannot be predicted until we know much more about its causes.”

Given that Dyson accepts the basic science of global warming, how — despite all his brilliance — is his opinion on the effects of warming worth any more than anyone else’s?

The Weather Underground again (II)

As it turned out, it really didn’t take me that long to skim the 1976 FBI history of the Weather Underground.

At 420 pages, it is a comprehensive overview of whom the FBI considered to be associated with the Weather Underground and what activities they engaged in. And there is not one solitary mention of Katherine Ann Power, Susan Saxe or the 1970 murder of Boston police officer Walter Schroeder.

As I wrote earlier, the section in the index where Power’s name might have appeared has been blacked out (or, to be more accurate, whited out). But from actually scanning through the document, it is clear that she’s nowhere to be found. Whoever’s name has been whited out, it’s safe to say, isn’t Power’s.

In another part of the document (PDF) is a section titled “WUO [Weather Underground Organization] Communiques and Bombings 1970-1976.” The section comprises a long list of terrorist acts for which the Weather Underground took credit — everything from bombing New York City police headquarters and the U.S. Capitol to helping Timothy Leary escape to Algeria. Again, there is no mention of the bank robbery in which Officer Schroeder was killed.

The only FBI reference to Power’s alleged membership in the Weather Underground is a photo caption on a Web page that links to the 1976 report. Based on what I’ve found so far, I think someone in the FBI communications department made a mistake.

Moving right along: Over at Google Books, I was able to search “The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground,” by Ron Jacobs (1997). There are no references whatsoever to Power, Saxe or the Schroeder case.

Using Amazon.com’s “Search Inside” feature, I also peeked at William Ayers’ memoir, “Fugitive Days.” Again, no reference to Power, Saxe or Schroeder.

I also consulted stories from the New York Times and the Associated Press published at the time of Schroeder’s murder. Both reported the FBI’s belief that the suspects were involved in “revolutionary” activities. Neither story made any mention of the Weather Underground.

I see no reason to back down from asserting that Katherine Ann Power had no connection to the Weather Underground.

The Weather Underground again

Proving a negative can be damn near impossible. So consider this a first, halting effort to refute Michael Graham’s claim that Katherine Ann Power was a member of the Weather Underground.

Power, as you may recall, is a convicted murder — a former student radical who was one of five people responsible for killing Boston police officer Walter Schroeder in a 1970 bank robbery. Last year, Michele McPhee, like Graham a talk-show host on WTKK Radio (96.9 FM), repeatedly claimed that Schroeder was killed by the Weather Underground; that because William Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, knows Barack Obama, it must therefore follow that Obama was being disrespectful to the Schroeder family or something.

Now Ayers has been invited and disinvited to speak at Boston College, which occasions Graham’s missive.

Graham’s evidence is a link to an FBI Web page in which Power is identified as a member of the Weather Underground. Yet it is an odd document to which Graham refers — there is nothing in it about the Schroeder murder or Power. There are, however, photos of Bernardine Dohrn (Ayers’ wife, and indeed a former member of the Weather Underground) and Power. No further information is provided.

There is also a link to an FBI document, in multiple parts and hundreds of pages long, that is a 1976 internal history of the Weather Underground. However, it is unsearchable, as it is in the form of a PDF image file. It would take me many hours to read through it. I don’t have the time, but if anyone would like to try, be my guest. I’d like to know what’s in it.

More interesting is another link Graham provides — to a long article in National Review, published in 1993, not long after Power’s arrest. In it, one of her former Brandeis professors, Jacob Cohen, goes into deep, fascinating detail about Power and her classmate and co-murderer Susan Saxe. Cohen makes it clear that Power and Saxe were consumed by the radical insanity of the time. But Cohen, who knew them well, offers no indication that either of them was a member of the Weather Underground. It just doesn’t come up.

The thing is, Power’s story is well-known. She and Saxe, while students at Brandeis, hooked up with three ex-convicts and robbed a bank so that they could raise money for the Black Panthers. It sounds crazy, and it was. The crime they committed was unspeakable. But with the sole exception of that FBI page, I don’t think you will find anything anywhere suggesting that they were tied to the Weather Underground.

Here is how the New York Times described it following Power’s 1993 arrest:

The bank robbery came in a year when the anti-war movement had splintered, with some groups going underground and turning to violence. That March, three members of the Weathermen, a radical group, blew themselves up in the Greenwich Village town house where they were trying to build bombs.

Then the United States invaded Cambodia. Four days later in early May, four Kent State University students were shot to death by the National Guard during a protest of the invasion. The next day Kathy Power was one of thousands of students who walked out of classes in protest.

A national committee to coordinate student strikes was set up at Brandeis and it included Ms. Power, Susan Saxe and a state prison inmate on a college furlough program, Stanley Bond. All three took part in the bank robbery.

I am trying to find out more. Given the FBI statement, I am treading carefully. But, so far, I have seen no facts that would challenge the public record: that Power and Saxe had nothing to do with the Weather Underground.

Instant update: I just had a flash of inspiration and looked at the index of Weather Underground members in that FBI report (PDF). The place where Power’s name would be (if it’s there) has been blacked out. Saxe is not mentioned at all.

Still more: I see that Graham has referred to me as “some moron who claims to teach at Northeastern University.” We shall see who’s the moron by the time this has been resolved.

Blogging the death of newspapers

This post is unfair to its intended targets, but it’s hilarious nevertheless. Paul Dailing writes at the Huffington Post:

I’ll join the ranks of Jeff Jarvis, Paul Gillin, Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky in competing to see who can use the most jargon to describe something everyone knows is happening. Apparently, it’s very simple.

The more you self-reference, pick feuds and talk about the failure of TimesSelect, the better you’re doing. If you make it sound like you’re the one who figured out newspapers are dying, you win.

I have to admit — there are times when this comes pretty close to the actual discourse. I’ll try to imagine Dailing whispering in my ear the next time I write my own death-of-newspapers post.