Monthly Archives: November 2010

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.

One final word (I hope) on Olbermann

Olbermann addressing his suspension last night. Click on image to see video.

One thing I could have made clearer in what has proved to be a fascinating discussion about Keith Olbermann’s political donations is that my support for the principle of journalistic independence should not be confused with support for the specific NBC News policy that tripped him up.

The policy, as reported by Politico, is absurd, as it cites the need to remain an “impartial journalist” as its justification, and states that employees may make contributions if they seek permission:

Anyone working for NBC News who takes part in civic or other outside activities may find that these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Such activities may include participation in or contributions to political campaigns or groups that espouse controversial positions. You should report any such potential conflicts in advance to, and obtain prior approval of, the president of NBC News or his designee.

No one would consider Olbermann to be an impartial journalist, and I can easily believe he had no idea he was violating policy when he donated to three Democratic politicians. Not to be belabor the point, but the principle that I think matters is independence, not impartiality. Check out the nine principles in Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel’s “Elements of Journalism.” You will note that two of them deal with independence, but objectivity isn’t even mentioned.

In his commentary last night, Olbermann implicitly described himself as a journalist by saying that the policy needs to be reconsidered in light of “21st-century journalism.” He is doing journalism of a sort. If you can find a meaningful difference between one of Olbermann’s “special comments” and Frank Rich’s Sunday column in the New York Times (one of my favorite reads), then you’re able to draw distinctions that elude me. And I don’t think anyone would argue that Rich isn’t a journalist.

Olbermann last night not only admitted he should have changed a “Worst Person” segment because of one of his donations, but he also quite properly pointed out the problems that would have ensued if he had contributed to Arizona congressman Raul Grijalva before having him on the show rather than after. That strikes me as a pretty good summation of why even opinionated hosts shouldn’t write checks to politicians.

A final observation: A number of people have criticized me and others for obsessing over Olbermann’s small contributions when Fox News hosts such as Sean Hannity routinely donate to politicians, and when Fox News major domo Rupert Murdoch has no scruples about giving $1 million to the Republican Governors Association.

They’re right, of course. Fox News is strictly a talk-show operation — the video equivalent of Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. MSNBC aspires to something higher than that. To say that MSNBC is a mirror image of Fox News is akin to arguing that the Nation is just like the Drudge Report. Rachel Maddow explained the difference quite well on Friday. But I don’t think it’s necessary to say “of course, Fox is worse” every time I write about MSNBC.

NBC handled the Olbermann matter badly right from the start, though the final result — a two-day suspension — strikes me as fitting the offense rather well. I’m glad Olbermann is back. And I agree with him that NBC ought to take another look at its policy. I’d make it tougher and clearer.

Welcome back, Keith

And thank you for making my point. Toward the end of “Countdown” tonight, Keith Olbermann said he should have changed a “Worst Person” segment because he had donated to that person’s opponent. I can’t think of a better argument for insisting that even opinion-mongers like Olbermann maintain some independence from the people they comment on — and for banning MSNBC hosts from making campaign contributions.

Update: You can now watch the clip.

Another take on Olbermann’s donations

By Marjorie Arons-Barron

Keith Olbermann’s “indefinite suspension” for violating NBC’s policy barring donations to political candidates turned out to be just two days off the air. Which probably makes sense because his misstep was not in making the donations to three Democratic candidates but in not informing the NBC powers that be, as the network’s policy demands. Put in that context, the “punishment” was just a company’s way of showing who’s boss, of not letting an employee act “too big for his britches.”

The real question remains unanswered: should real journalists make donations to political candidates? The short answer to that is No. Not. Never. If you’re gathering and reporting the news, you need to project an open-mindedness and the ability to tell a story without bias. The Globe’s Brian Mooney and the Herald’s Jessica Van Sack would be sacked if they ever contributed to candidates, I am sure, and their writing would lose credibility.

Keith Olbermann is a journalist only in the broadest sense of the word, “a writer or editor for a news medium.” But the definition of journalism I grew up with was closer to Webster’s definition of one engaged in “the direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation.” That is not what Keith Olbermann is about. Given how clearly he states his political opinions and preferences, he is really more of a news entertainer, just like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity on Fox. If NBC really cares about separating news from opinion, it should bar Olbermann from anchoring coverage of election night returns.

Even when I earned my living as an editorialist, always writing and airing opinion, I would never contribute to a candidate because it would appear to compromise my ability to gather information (on which the opinion would eventually be based) in the most neutral way. I would hope that today’s editorial writers abide by that rule. For they are, in the best sense of the word, opinion journalists.

But in the cable news business, the pitchmen (and women) on Fox and MSNBC are shilling for their viewpoints and favorite candidates on a daily basis. As David Carr points out in Monday’s NY Times, that amounts to an in-kind contribution. Fox News has even had three presidential hopefuls (Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin) on the payroll as commentators. Its website headlines Christine O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, Meg Whitman and Joe Miller.

Fox is fine with all this (hey, Rupert Murdoch donated $1 million to the Republican Governors Association). MSNBC doesn’t ban donations. It only wants those who donate to inform the higher-ups. This is a distinction without a difference.

In today’s cable environment, a defined point of view is part of the station’s brand. It’s why those inclined to the right tune into Fox and those on the left tune into MSNBC. What difference can it make at this time that their stars are donating to candidates? I may not like it, but, if I’m in the market for balanced and credible news, theirs are not the places to which I turn.

Marjorie Arons-Barron is president of Barron Associates Worldwide and the former editorial director for WCVB-TV (Channel 5). You can read her blog here.

Amazon’s move is a boon for digital newspapers

The future of digital newspapers just got a lot more interesting.

The New York Times reports that Amazon has decided to let newspaper and magazine publishers have a 70 percent cut of Kindle revenues, a substantial increase over the current 30 percent. In order to qualify, though, those publishers will have to agree to let Amazon sell subscriptions to anyone who has a device with Kindle software installed on it. (Unlike books, you had to have Amazon’s Kindle hardware device in order to download newspapers and magazines.)

When that happens, you’ll be able to read the Kindle editions of your favorite newspapers and magazines on an iPad, a smartphone or the forthcoming Google tablets.

Given the halting nature of newspaper and magazine rollouts for the iPad (stemming in large measure from a dispute between Apple and publishers over who gets to see customer data), this is a boon on two levels. It gives non-Kindle tablet owners a viable workaround until Apple and the publishers can get their act together — and it provides Apple with a huge incentive to make that happen, along with some rare leverage for the publishers.

Meanwhile, John Ellis points to an analysis showing that paid online distribution may have a future: at Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London, online readership is down but revenues are way up since the Times erected a pay wall earlier this year.

Earlier: “The resurrection will be slightly delayed.”

“Enlightenment” on the road from Providence

On Saturday night, during a long drive home from Providence, I listened to the pianist McCoy Tyner‘s “Enlightenment” in its entirety for the first time in a long while. It’s one of those albums that you approach with a degree of seriousness, so normally I tell myself I’ll listen when I can sit still and concentrate. But we all know how few those opportunities are.

Recorded live in 1973 at the Montreaux Jazz Festival, “Enlightenment” is similar in intent and spiritual approach to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” on which Tyner played. Each combines simple, repetitive melodies and rhythms with dense improvisations. There are some wonderful moments in “Enlightenment.” Among my favorites is Joony Booth’s bass solo at the beginning of the closing track, “Walk Spirit, Talk Spirit.” After a few stumbles, he plays a passage so beautiful you’d swear he was singing.

I was introduced to “Enlightenment” when I was still in high school by the drummer in our band, who always had exquisite taste. Thus it’s more meaningful to me than “A Love Supreme,” even though the latter may be a greater achievement. I saw Tyner twice during the 1970s. The first time may have been at the Jazz Workshop near Copley Square, though I can’t be sure. The second was at the Paradise.

Tyner is a great artist and a great soul. I can’t recommend “Enlightenment” strongly enough.