Monthly Archives: October 2010

Broder’s disturbing advice to Obama

I realize Washington Post columnist David Broder’s expiration date came and went some time ago. But suggesting that President Obama prepare for war with Iran in order to boost his re-election prospects is surely a new low.

“I am not suggesting, of course, that the president incite a war to get reelected,” Broder writes. Good lord, what is it he thinks he’s doing?

Jon Keller is still at large

When CBS unveiled a new WBZ website a couple of days ago, political analyst Jon Keller’s blog seemed to disappear — just a few days before a wild state election.

Fortunately, Keller is using his old blog until the new site can be fixed. You won’t find it linked from WBZTV.com — or, as it has now been dubbed, BostonCBSLocal.com. But you will find it here.

Update: WBZ is working out the kinks, and Keller is now asking his readers to join him here.

Gawker’s slimy hit on Christine O’Donnell

Christine O'Donnell

I will not link, though you’ll have no trouble finding it if you’re interested. But I want to join those who are calling out the gossip site Gawker for an item that was slimy even by its own consistently low standards.

On Thursday, Gawker posted a piece by an anonymous contributor who claimed to have had a one-night stand with Tea Party favorite Christine O’Donnell three years ago. There was no actual sex in his telling, but the details are pretty embarrassing. Two problems: (1) we have no idea if it’s true; and, more important, (2) whether true or not, it’s nobody’s damn business.

Yahoo! media columnist Michael Calderone has a great round-up of outraged reaction to the piece, along with Gawker editor Remy Stern’s pathetic defense.

O’Donnell, the longshot Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, is absolutely fair game for her public utterances, including her deservedly mocked statements about dabbling in witchcraft. But what Gawker did on Thursday was beneath contempt.

The sad irony is that this will contribute to public loathing of the media, even though Gawker’s relationship to journalism is approximately the same as that of the WWE to sports.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Rewarding those they despise the most

If the polls and the pundits are to be believed, voters nationwide are about to deliver a stinging rebuke to our most popular elected official by casting their ballots in favor of our most despised political class. No, I’m not making this up. And it really calls into question what people are thinking, given that they appear poised to vote Republican on Tuesday.

Now, who is the most popular elected official? That would be the much-maligned President Obama, whose job-approval ratings are in rough shape, but who, as we shall see, stands head and shoulders above Congress. Take a look at this, and you’ll see that, in recent polls, Obama’s job approval rating is almost evenly divided between positive and negative.

A CNN/Opinion Research poll shows that 45 percent of respondents approve of the president’s performance and 52 percent disapprove. That seems to be in line with other polls I’ve seen. Yet some polls actually reverse those numbers in Obama’s favor. For instance, this Newsweek poll finds that 54 percent approve of Obama’s job performance and 40 percent disapprove. That does not sound like a president who’s down for the count.

Obama’s numbers are not only much better than those of Congress, but the congressional numbers break down in a way that is favorable to him. The public, according to surveys, despises Congress — but it loathes the Democrats slightly less than the Republicans.

Just one out of many examples: A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that the public gives Democratic members of Congress a 36 percent positive/61 percent negative job-approval rating. The same poll shows that respondents gave Republican members of Congress a 30 percent favorable rating and a 67 percent unfavorable assessment.

You might find a few exceptions, but the emphasis would be on “few.” I’ve been following these numbers off and on since Obama’s inauguration, and congressional Republicans have consistently come in last in the three-way race for job approval.

How to explain the likelihood that the Republicans will make huge gains on Capitol Hill next week? I’m not sure it can be explained. For instance, today’s New York Times reports the results of a poll it conducted with CBS News that shows next Tuesday will be a huge day for the GOP. Yet, bizarrely, the poll also finds:

[N]early 60 percent of Americans were optimistic about Mr. Obama’s next two years in office and nearly 70 percent said the economic slump is temporary. Half said the economy was where they expected it would be at this point, and less than 10 percent blamed the current administration for the state of the economy, leaving the onus on former President George W. Bush and Wall Street.

Those findings are everything Obama and congressional Democrats could hope for. The most you can say, though, is that voters will give the president an opportunity to dig out from the rubble they are about to dump on him next Tuesday. Strange days indeed.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The center of the news universe

That would be Danvers, world headquarters of Media Nation and now the home of four — count ’em — news organizations battling it out for local eyeballs. The newest is our very own Patch, joining the Salem News, the Danvers Herald and the Boston Globe’s Your Town/Danvers site. Who says the news business is dead?

Reflecting on the latest circulation figures

In Japan, advertising accounts for just 35 percent of newspaper revenue. In Britain, it’s 50 percent. And in the United States, ads have traditionally amounted to a whopping 87 percent of newspaper income. That’s why it can truly be said that, in the U.S., newspapers have always given away the news, charging only for paper and delivery.

These days we pay for computers and broadband access while getting the news for free — same as it ever was. That is among the most important explanations for why news organizations are going to have a difficult time persuading more than a handful of readers to pay for online access. I wish them well. But the challenge is enormous.

One thing some readers will continue to pay for is the convenience of print. (Spare me your nostalgia for the romance of print. Print persists for one reason: it’s still more ergonomically friendly than any electronic version. Someday that will change.)

After yesterday’s newspaper circulation figures were released, showing a continued but slowing decline in print sales industry-wide, Boston Globe publisher Chris Mayer issued a memo — a copy of which was obtained by Media Nation — attributing the Globe’s continued slide to last year’s decision to raise the price to as much as the market would bear. (Here is the Boston Herald’s take.)

The idea is that there’s a sweet spot. Up to a point, you can raise prices and make more money, even if the total number of print readers declines. Somewhere, though, there’s a top to the curve, and the challenge is to find the top and not raise prices so much that revenues start to fall. The result, unfortunately, is that you end up with a niche product for an elite readership. But it’s either that or die.

And here’s a good piece of news. There’s also a sizable subset of readers who will pay for electronic editions like Times Reader and GlobeReader, which are cheaper than print but more convenient than newspaper websites that keep you chained to your desk. Given that iPad editions have barely kicked into gear, that’s a promising sign.

The full text of Mayer’s memo follows.

Dear Colleagues,

Earlier today the Audit Bureau of Circulations issued their Fas-Fax report for the six months ending September 30th. The Globe has shown year-over-year declines in line with our expectations, as a result of our circulation and pricing strategy instituted last summer.

The good news is the rate of circulation decline has slowed as we cycle through the impact of the price increases. One indicator is the comparison between September’s report and March’s report. Viewed this way, the declines are 2.8% for Sunday and 4.2% for daily. These are encouraging trends for our business and in line with others in our industry.

The past few months has also seen continued excellence in our reporting and positive contributions to the community. Our Spotlight Team investigation of patronage in the state’s probation department; our sensitive series of stories on bullying; the amazing coverage of the Amy Bishop case; coverage of the earthquake and aftermath in Haiti and its impact in Boston; and our current coverage of the political races are just a few examples of the important journalism we’re delivering.

The Globe’s circulation, now at 368,000 on Sunday and 223,000 daily, still makes us the largest newspaper in New England by a wide margin. The year-over-year decreases of about 15.7% on Sunday and 12.0% daily were expected and budgeted.  To offer some context, we raised prices last summer in most areas by 30% to 50% to grow circulation revenue and stabilize the business.

Of course, circulation numbers are not the end of the story. Print and online media work in concert with one another to build audience. It should be noted then that in terms of readership, during an average week, the Sunday Globe, the daily Globe and Boston.com together will reach 51% of all adults in the metro Boston area.  It will also be reported in Monday’s Fas-Fax that Boston.com’s local audience grew by 2.9 %.

The recently announced two-brand digital strategy is now officially under way and we are developing launch plans for our new subscription-based Web site BostonGlobe.com, and the next generation Boston.com. And, watch forperiodic launches of digital products in the upcoming months.

So, as we look ahead we will continue to execute on our strategy, building on the strong foundation of quality journalism, original content, broad audience reach, higher reader engagement, advertising effectiveness, and strong connection with the community that is reflected by, and results in, our more than 50% of the market.

We can all share a sense of optimism and purpose as we focus on our future success.

— Chris

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The crisis that threatens to marginalize football

Former NFL player Nate Jackson’s commentary in today’s New York Times underscores the crisis that football faces over concussions and their lasting effects. The league’s crackdown on unnecessary roughness will accomplish almost nothing, Jackson argues. And needless to say, it is worthless with respect to college, high-school and youth football.

It may seem unimaginable today, but I honestly believe we may be at the beginning stages of a national shift that could relegate football to the margins, like boxing. With permanent after-effects, including dementia, a not-uncommon outcome, who would want their sons to risk such a fate if they fully understood the danger?

I’m not a football fan, but I don’t dislike it. I’ll watch a few games a year, depending on how the Patriots are doing. So don’t take this as an anti-football screed. I just think it’s become clear that the sport is too dangerous.

A couple of days ago, on MSNBC, I watched Gregg Easterbrook show Chuck Todd a super-high-tech new helmet that’s supposed to offer greater protection. But will that really help? Won’t players hit even harder?

Given all that, I wonder how the game might change if the NFL were to take a radical step like returning to 1940s-style gear — that is, leather helmets and minimal padding. As Jackson points out, it’s the helmets that allow players to turn their heads into a weapon. Combined with a common-sense weight limit of, say, 250 pounds, it might just make football safe enough to play.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

NPR goes into damage-control mode over Williams

Juan Williams

After NPR chief executive Vivian Schiller said Juan Williams should keep his feelings about Muslims between himself and “his psychiatrist or his publicist,” I thought perhaps it was Schiller who ought to schedule some couch time. She apologized, and today she’s in damage-control mode.

NPR media reporter David Folkenflik did something very smart (which I learned about through Jack Shafer’s Twitter feed): he refused to attend an off-the-record staff meeting about Williams’ firing following offensive comments he made on Fox News. Instead, Folkenflik pieced together what happened by interviewing some of those who did attend. Based on Folkenflik’s tweets, Schiller seems to have hit the right notes. (I’m running them in chronological order rather than the usual reverse chrono:

The all-staff meeting was off the record, so I did not attend. However, staffers who did told me the following:

Schiller said decision to give Wms notice was not because of slip of the tongue, but latest in a series of violations of NPR ethics policy

Schiller said it had been raised several times but that he continued to inject personal opinon in his analysis in settings outside NPR.

Schiller said at some point, you have to draw the line. (more)

Though she called it the right decision, Schiller also said NPR did not handle Wms’ ouster well. She promised staffers a “full post-mortem.”

Schiller also said she was ambushed leaving her home by a two-person camera crew identifying itself as being from Fox News.

Over and out.

I feel a little better about this than I did yesterday. Schiller did the right thing for the wrong reason at the wrong time. What’s important is that she knows she blew the handling of it. No way she can undo it — not after Fox News rewarded Williams with a three-year, $2 million deal. But at least she seems determined to make the best of a bad situation. It sounds like she’s adopted the views of NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard, who writes that “a more deliberative approach might have enabled NPR to avoid what has turned into a public relations nightmare.”

Here is our discussion of the Williams matter on tonight’s “Beat the Press.” I’m also quoted in a Christian Science Monitor story on the hazards of straddling the reporter/analyst/commentator divide.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Paul Steven Miller, a civil-rights pioneer

Paul Steven Miller

I was saddened to learn earlier this week that Paul Steven Miller, an accomplished civil-rights lawyer, had died of cancer at the age of 49. Paul was a dwarf, and in 2002 I interviewed him at the annual Little People of America national conference, which that year was held in Salt Lake City. Here’s what I wrote about our encounter in my book on dwarfism, “Little People”:

Another twist on the ambiguous relationship between dwarfism and disability can be seen in the career of Paul Steven Miller, a lawyer who is well known for his work on behalf of disability rights. Miller, a Clinton appointee to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), whose term expires in mid-2004, is an achondroplastic dwarf, but his advocacy work has had little to do with dwarfism. Yet Miller learned about dwarfism as a social disability early on: despite graduating near the top of his class at Harvard Law School, he interviewed with forty-five law firms without getting a single offer.

“I was basically told by one of the lawyers at one firm that even though they didn’t have a problem with my size, they thought that their clients would think they were running a circus freak show if I was a lawyer in their firm,” Miller told me. I was so taken aback that I asked if the lawyer had really said that. “Yeah,” Miller replied evenly. “At that time it was before the passage of the ADA, it was before it was really illegal. And people were much less subtle about it.”

Eventually, Miller found work with a law firm in Los Angeles and got caught up in the disability-rights movement when he became director of litigation for the nonprofit Western Law Center for Disability Rights. His most famous client was a television news anchor named Bree Walker Lampley, who had a mild disability known as ectrodactyly, in which the bones of the fingers and toes are partially fused. A person with this condition appears to have webbed hands and feet, although in Walker Lampley’s case it did not so much as prevent her from using a typewriter.

Miller became involved when a radio talk-show host and her ill-informed callers blasted Walker Lampley for becoming pregnant with a child who might also have ectrodactyly. One caller — a Claire from Oceanside — ignorantly ranted, “I would rather not be alive than have a disease like that.” With Miller’s help, Walker Lampley filed a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, charging that the station had violated the terms of its license by spreading hate. The case ultimately failed, but she and Miller had made their point. And Walker Lampley gave birth to a healthy son who, like her, had ectrodactyly.

Much of Miller’s practice sounds considerably more routine by today’s standards, but it was groundbreaking in the 1980s — architectural access cases, school and job discrimination, suing the California state government and local officials. “It was tremendously exciting for me and the others at the center,” he told me, “because we were just making it up as we went along.”

Miller served on Bill Clinton’s transition team in 1992 and worked as a White House liaison to the disability community until 1994, when Clinton named him to the EEOC, which enforces federal discrimination laws. On the day that I met him, at LPA’s 2002 national conference in Salt Lake City, he had just finished a breakfast meeting with the chief justice of Utah’s state supreme court. That evening, he would become the third recipient — and the first LP — to receive LPA’s Award for Promoting Awareness of Individuals with Dwarfism. Forty-one years old, balding, with owlish glasses, Miller gets around with a cane to relieve his achondroplasia-related back problems.

I asked him about his view of the relationship between dwarfism in particular and the disability-rights movement in general — a nexus where he has spent much of his life. “I think that what is beginning to happen is that the organized LPA community is really linking arms and becoming an organizational part of the greater disability community,” he replied. “I think it’s part and parcel of the identity of LPA changing over the past five years or so, and of LPA having, not an identity crisis, but sort of morphing its identity into something larger than the social club that it may have been a number of years ago. I think it’s fair to say that LPA as an organization is not really an active player in the broader disability movement at the national level. But I think that that’s the direction we’re headed in.” He added: “I think it would be fair to say that I have always really connected the two experiences, both in my mind and my career.”

Paul was a great friend of the dwarfism and disability communities, and there has been an outpouring of affection for him on LPA’s Facebook page. He was a man of many accomplishments, and he will be missed.

Photo via the University of Washington School of Law.