Monthly Archives: November 2010

False equivalence at MSNBC

When Politico confronted MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann with campaign donations he’d made, he came clean immediately. Joe Scarborough? Not so much. So why did Scarborough get the same two-day suspension as Olbermann? Shouldn’t he have received — oh, three or four days?

A First Amendment hero-in-the-making

Michael Morisy

Last night I met a fledgling First Amendment hero: Michael Morisy, co-founder of MuckRock, a site where he posts public documents he obtains from filing public-records requests.

Morisy, as you might have heard, may be in trouble because of how Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration handled his request for records about how much money has been spent at various Massachusetts businesses under the federal food-stamp program.

The state complied with Morisy’s request. Then, in a classic CYA move, the administration — realizing after the fact that the release may have violated federal law — sent a letter to Morisy informing him he could be subject to a possible fine or imprisonment if he doesn’t take the information down. It was a ridiculous threat, and Morisy has refused to comply. The courts have consistently ruled that, under the First Amendment, the onus for keeping private records private is entirely on the keeper of those records, not on those who would publish them.

Nor is the privacy of any food-stamp recipients at risk. The records published by MuckRock, according to this Boston Globe story by Noah Bierman, do not identify any recipients.

It doesn’t seem likely that Morisy and his tech guy, Mitchell Kotler, are in any real trouble. In a follow-up in the Globe by Jonathan Saltzman, we learn that the Patrick administration issued a second CYA to cover its first CYA, assuring one and all that it never, ever intended to threaten MuckRock. Oh, no, of course not.

“At this point, I think the legal issue will blow over,” Morisy tells Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix. “But it’s still interesting, because all of a sudden people got very interested in what we’re doing.”

Still, you never know. Last night Morisy attended a panel discussion I moderated at Boston University on “Legal Liability in the Age of WikiLeaks,” with local First Amendment lawyers Jon Albano and Rob Bertsche. Bertsche, who has agreed to represent Morisy for free, made it clear that he doesn’t consider MuckRock to be out of the woods just yet.

Given the public attention this issue has received, I think Gov. Deval Patrick himself should announce that Morisy and Kotler are in no danger for posting records they received as a result of making a legitimate public-records request. Patrick should apologize while he’s at it.

Photo is from Morisy’s LinkedIn profile.

Please join us for a panel on WikiLeaks and the law

This Wednesday I’ll be moderating a conversation on “Legal Liability in the Age of Wikileaks,” starring two terrific First Amendment lawyers — Rob Bertsche of Prince Lobel and Jon Albano of Bingham McCutcheon.

The program is being sponsored by Hacks/Hackers of Boston, which brings together journalists and technology folks. We’ll schmooze from 6 to 7 p.m. and get down to business from 7 to 8. I hope you’ll join us.

The session will be held in the student lounge at Boston University’s College of Communication, 640 Commonwealth Ave. For more information, just click here.

What was missing from today’s Boston Globe

Dan Wasserman (at podium) speaks at JFK Library

How many trees had to die so that the Boston Globe could stop cartoonist Dan Wasserman from raining on the Museum of Fine Arts’ parade?

Earlier this weekend, Media Nation heard that the Globe had killed a cartoon by Wasserman that was scheduled to run on today’s editorial page. Sure enough, you will find a guest op-ed headlined “The tech-politics divide” where Wasserman’s cartoon ought to be.

Then, this morning, I received a PDF of the page — already printed — from an anonymous source. The cartoon is vintage Wasserman, poking vicious good fun at the MFA and at Bank of America. I asked Wasserman to tell me what happened, and here is the full text of his e-mailed response:

The cartoon was held but is scheduled to run next Sunday. The publisher [Christopher Mayer] was concerned that the MFA, on the day it was celebrating the opening of its new wing, was being nicked in a cartoon that was aimed at Bank of America. I was out of the office on Friday, and because of early weekend deadlines, the cartoon was coming off the presses before he could reach me to talk it through. I’m disappointed it was held. It’s a strong, timely cartoon.

Because Wasserman says the cartoon will run next Sunday, I’ve decided to hold off from posting the PDF.

The PDF is clearly a scan of a printed page. How many Ideas sections were printed and discarded after management decided to spike the cartoon? I understand it may have been quite a few, but I don’t have a confirmed number.

I also asked the Globe’s spokesman, vice president Robert Powers, for comment. He sent along the following statement a few minutes ago:

We do not comment on editorial decisions. Unfortunately, due to early printing deadlines, the section had already started to print.  No one outside of the news and editorial process for The Boston Globe is ever consulted about news and editorial decisions.

No question the Globe has invested a lot in its coverage of the MFA’s $500 million expansion. The paper published a 56-page color glossy magazine commemorating the event (we got two, since it was also included in the New York Times), featuring, among other things, a full-page ad from — yes — Bank of America. There’s an interactive special at Boston.com as well.

All good stuff. But there was nothing out of bounds or offensive in Wasserman’s cartoon. It should have run.

Photo (cc) by Tony the Misfit and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Tina Brown takes over the Weekly Beast

Tina Brown (right) with Arianna Huffington.

The media world is abuzz this morning over the merger of the Daily Beast and Newsweek, mainly because Tina Brown finds herself running a print magazine once again. I can’t get too excited. I never acquired the Beast habit, and I gave up on Newsweek years ago.

I will say that Brown’s announcement, in which she essentially awards Newsweek columns to Howard Kurtz and Peter Beinart, makes this move sound less than revolutionary, though I’ve got a lot of respect for Kurtz.

Brown’s a quirky, interesting editor, and maybe she can do something with Newsweek. But it won’t be Newsweek — that’s over.

Back in 1999, I wrote about Brown for the Boston Phoenix on the occasion of Talk magazine’s disastrous launch. What? You don’t remember Talk? Neither does anyone else.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Howie Carr writes checks, too

I’m late with this, but I want to point out that Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub recently reported that Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr donated $100 to Royall Switzler, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for state representative in his hometown of Wellesley.

Back in the day, Switzler was a legislative firebrand. But his political career came to a halt after he was caught exaggerating his military record while he was running for governor in 1986.

Carr, of course, is already hopelessly compromised because of his various speaking appearances on behalf of Republicans. Just click here.

Over at the liberal blog Blue Mass. Group, people are talking about Carr’s latest line-crossing in light of Keith Olbermann’s suspension and subsequent apology.

Not to repeat what I’ve said previously, but Carr’s activism on behalf of the Republican Party is not at all unusual for a radio talk-show host, which is why I stress his Herald connection. It is very unusual for a news columnist — especially one who, like Carr, still calls Democratic politicians for comment and snickers when they decline to call him back.

Joe Sciacca speaks

Gabrielle Gurley of CommonWealth Magazine interviews Boston Herald editor Joe Sciacca, my former “Beat the Press” colleague. Sciacca moved up to the Herald’s top job in August, after Kevin Convey left for the Daily News of New York.

It’s a good read, beginning with Sciacca’s take on his paper’s feud with U.S. Rep. Barney Frank. “It’s not unusual for a politician who has been a subject of tough reporting to lash out at the messenger and I think that’s what happened in this case,” Sciacca tells Gurley. “But I think we’ve been fair in our coverage of Congressman Frank and I think we will continue to be so.”

Sciacca also says that “anybody is hipper than me,” which is a relief, as it makes me no worse than number two in the local least-hip sweepstakes.