Monthly Archives: July 2011

Paul Krugman’s prescient criticism

Paul Krugman

I’ve been trying to think of a way to add some value to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s blog post on the “cult of centrism,” which he’s now expanded into a column. I can’t think of much other than to urge you to read it. The media’s insistence on balancing sanity with insanity and truth with lies is not only infuriating, but it’s having a deleterious effect on our democracy, especially in the unspeakably stupid debate over the debt limit. Today, even John Boehner might agree.

Here’s one thing I can recommend that might help place Krugman in context. In early 2009 — even before President Obama took office — Krugman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a series of columns arguing that the economic stimulus Obama was proposing would not be enough to offset the worst economic crisis to come along in many decades. Krugman pulled all the strings together in early March, arguing that the $787 billion stimulus was too small and too tilted toward tax breaks, and that when it failed, Obama would be blamed for “massive,” out-of-control spending.

It doesn’t get more prescient than that. And this week Krugman proves himself to be as an astute a media critic as he is a political economist.

What did Dan Savage say about Scott Brown?

Republican political consultant Eric Fehrnstrom, whose clients include U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, issued a challenge to Media Nation on Twitter earlier today: “You should research some of the vile things that video maker Dan Savage has said about Scott Brown and other public figtures.”

Fehrnstrom was responding to my post asking why Brown didn’t take part in the “It Gets Better” video put together by the Massachusetts congressional delegation. Savage, a gay journalist and sex-advice columnist, is the originator of and driving force behind the “It Gets Better” campaign.

So, Media Nation readers, what of it? I am well aware of what Savage has said about former senator Rick Santorum. But to my mind, that doesn’t count, since Santorum had already said what Savage and his husband do in bed is just slightly more acceptable than “man on dog” sex or pedophilia. Nothing, no matter how vile, can top that.

I did a little idle Googling around and couldn’t really come up with anything Savage has ever said about Brown. But yes, I could have missed something. Please let me know in the comments.

Update: We have a winner! Check the comments.

Why did Scott Brown sit out “It Gets Better” video?


I have been trying to imagine what U.S. Sen. Scott Brown thought he would gain by declining to take part in the latest “It Gets Better” video. Aimed at gay and lesbian teenagers, this effort features every member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation except Brown, whose office issued a statement that he’s too busy creating jobs and stuff.

(Brown had better hope he doesn’t show up in any Hot Dog Day photos.)

We were kicking it around on Twitter yesterday, and several people thought Brown wanted to avoid stirring up the right so that he won’t face a primary challenge when he comes up for re-election next year. I’m not buying it. At worst, Brown might face a token right-wing opponent in the Republican primary. Being able to position himself as the moderate alternative to that kind of nuttiness would only help his campaign.

In fact, in the Massachusetts context, there was zero downside for Brown in taking part and a considerable potential upside. Yes, he might have lost out on some national right-wing money. But his participation would have been a hit with the vast majority of Massachusetts voters, and would have confounded the large and obscure field of Democrats running against him.

So I’m going to adopt a theory put forth by another Twitter commenter: Brown’s running for vice president, or at least he doesn’t want to do anything that would keep him off the national ticket if the opportunity presented itself. Yes, I know it sounds kind of nutty. But his decision to sit out the “It Gets Better” campaign defies non-nutty analysis.

Brown’s decision is also loathsome on the merits.

Rupert Murdoch, Peter Lucas and the politics of hate

Peter Lucas

Former Boston Herald columnist Peter Lucas has a scorcher of a piece about his old boss Rupert Murdoch online at the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise and the Lowell Sun. Lucas’ job was one of many that were saved when Murdoch took the dying Herald American off Hearst’s hands in 1981. But he says he discovered the dark side of that deal in December 1982, when he was personally asked by Rupe: “Is the governor on the take?”

Lucas doesn’t say which governor. In late 1982, Ed King was the outgoing governor and Michael Dukakis, coming back after his defeat at the end of his first term in 1978, was governor-elect. It seems likely Murdoch was more interested in Dukakis than King. In any event, Murdoch soon developed a deep and abiding hatred for Dukakis, which came to a full flowering during the Duke’s ill-fated presidential campaign in 1988. Lucas writes of Murdoch’s Herald:

The paper, under Murdoch’s orders, turned on Dukakis with such hate that it was difficult to comprehend. Murdoch, who supported Vice President George Bush, simply used the paper — Dukakis’ “hometown” paper — to savage Dukakis. The more serious Dukakis’ candidacy became, the more he was mocked, smeared and ridiculed, as was his poor wife, while Murdoch secretly met with Bush.

In Des Moines just days before the important Iowa Democratic presidential primary, a Murdoch executive from the Herald told his reporters, “My job is to make sure Dukakis doesn’t become president.”

It was during that period I met with a key Murdoch editor of the paper from London. I asked him, “Where did all this hate come from? We never had this hate before.”

He turned red in the face and looked down at his shoes. When he did not answer, I said: “You guys brought it in.” Needless to say, I was soon gone.

Lucas writes that the Murdoch he knew had “a darkly cynical, nasty and negative attitude toward politics, government and humanity in general.” Certainly nothing has changed over the years. Fortunately, Murdoch sold the Herald in 1994.

Back in his Herald days, Lucas was one of the most visible and respected political columnists in Boston. It was Lucas who was victimized by then-Boston mayor Kevin White in 1983, which led to the Herald’s classic “White Will Run” headline. (White wouldn’t run.) And he’s no liberal — his reincarnated political column consists largely of conservative criticisms of Gov. Deval Patrick and the local political culture.

Lucas’ observations about Murdoch should be taken for what they are: the first-hand account of a good newsman, appalled at the lack of ethics and standards epitomized by Murdoch and his wrecking crew. Keep that in mind as we try to figure out whether Murdoch’s son James was lying or simply didn’t know what he was talking about when he and Dad appeared before a parliamentary committee earlier this week.

A lackluster 2011 for the Globe’s finances

Looks like it’s been a pretty lackluster 2011 so far for the Boston Globe, according to the latest financial results from the New York Times Co. Revenues at the New England Media Group, which consists of the Globe, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette and Boston.com, were down 3.6 percent for the second quarter compared to 2010, and down 4.3 percent for the first six months.

That includes a 2.7 percent decline in advertising revenue for the quarter (3.8 percent for the first six months) and a 5.4 percent drop in circulation revenue for the quarter (6 percent for the first six months). Total revenue for the second quarter was reported at $102.5 million. The circulation decline suggests that the higher prices instituted for the print edition a couple of years ago have now worked their way through the system, and that revenues are sliding as the number of papers sold continues to shrink, as is the case at most daily newspapers.

Business has stabilized at the Globe — certainly compared to 2009, when the Times Co. was threatening to close the company if it couldn’t extract painful union concessions in the face of huge operating losses. But neither the Globe nor the newspaper business in general is close to being out of the woods.

Next stop is the Globe’s experiment in charging for online distribution, scheduled to be unveiled later this year. The Times itself has apparently had some success with its own pay model. The delicate state of the Globe’s finances shows how important it is that its own experiment doesn’t blow up in the lab.

Also: News business analyst Alan Mutter recently analyzed the unexpectedly steep drop in newspaper advertising revenue.

Happy birthday, Marshall McLuhan

Today is the 100th birthday of Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian scholar who forever changed the way we think about media and their effects on the human psyche.

Last week I sat down for a conversation with Len Edgerly, host of “The Kindle Chronicles,” on what McLuhan would think about the Kindle, the iPad, and what effects e-readers would have on our perception of text, reading and linearity. The interview grew out of my recent review of Douglas Coupland’s McLuhan biography for Nieman Reports.

Len and I had great fun, and I hope you’ll have a chance to give it a listen.

How to handle comments — and how not to

A New Haven alderman and his wife were involved in a shoving match at their home shortly before 2 a.m. this past Saturday, according to police. The incident serves as a textbook illustration of how to handle reader comments — and how not to.

The alderman, Darnell Goldson, is African-American, a fiscal conservative and a high-profile critic of Mayor John DeStefano. The city’s daily newspaper, the New Haven Register, and a nonprofit news site, the New Haven Independent, published brief stories on the altercation. The Register allows anyone to post comments immediately, though offensive ones can be removed if someone complains, or if someone on the Register’s staff catches it. The Independent screens all comments before posting.

Over the past year I’ve interviewed a number of folks in the city’s large African-American community. Invariably, the Register’s comments policy is near the top of their list in complaints about the Register. The Independent doesn’t necessarily get perfect scores on that front. But because blatantly racist comments are not allowed at the Independent in the first place, black readers generally give the Independent high marks for trying to encourage a civil conversation.

Here are some of the dicier comments you’ll find about the Goldsons at the Register right now — some racially charged, some just in incredibly poor taste:

Probably a drug related incident !

Pretty rough neighbor hood. “

Obviously a personal matter that was fueled by something egregious.

Common sense would dictate some type of marital discord that involves “whoopee”, “friends with benefits” or a series of one-night-stands.

No big deal as this type of behavior is quite common in Ward 30

Hmm,I wonder…Would you all be so quick to rush to bury this man if instead of “Darnell”, his name happened to be “Daniel”,”Christopher”, or some other, more caucasian name?Racism pervades so many comments made on this page that it makes me sick.If you are a racist loser, come right out and say it, don’t dance around the subject by negatively commenting every time someone with a name like “Jamal, Tyshawn, or Darnell” is referenced in an article!

Its because the ones with the names like Jamal, Darnell, Tyshawn, LaKeisha, Tyreeka, etc are the ones we hear about causing most of the trouble and committing most of the crimes in the area.

Call it racist if you want, but the bad citizens in your community are the ones giving black people a bad name. The rest of us normal citizens who do work and who do stay out of trouble are just really sick of hearing black people cry racism when there are so many of you causing your own problems.

Cheer up everybody, the makeup sex is going to be incredible!

Please understand that I’m not saying the Register condones such comments. Its commenting policy says, “We ask that you be polite. Offensive comments will be removed and repeated offensive comments could lead to being banned from commenting. In no way do the comments represent the view of nhregister.com.” And based on what I’ve seen in the past, I expect some or all of these comments will be gone before long.

But by not taking responsibility for comments before posting, the Register opens itself up to charges of offensiveness and of insensitivity to the black community.

By contrast, the Independent’s policy begins: “Yes we do censor reader comments. We’ll continue to.” And if you look at the comments appended to the bottom of the Independent’s story, you won’t find anything remotely like what I’ve quoted above.

This has nothing to do with free speech. It’s about brand, reputation and journalistic standards. It’s also about whether you think of comments as a way to build community, or simply as a tactic to drive up page views.

No responsible editor would allow ordinary people to be quoted making such remarks, especially anonymously. Nor would an editor publish such garbage as a letter to the editor. Why should comments be any different?

The ongoing collapse of Murdoch’s media empire

Rupert Murdoch

Like media obsessives everywhere, I’ve been watching with gleeful fascination as Rupert Murdoch’s British media empire collapses around him. I wish nothing but ill for the “rotten old bastard,” and I certainly don’t expect that the electrifying news of the moment — that he has withdrawn his bid for BSkyB — will be the end of it.

The next step is for the Murdoch media scandal to get untracked in the United States. There’s certainly plenty for us to sink our teeth into. Wall Street Journal publisher Les Hinton is a Murdoch intimate who is up to his neck in the British phone-hacking scandal. Even better, the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission are mandated by law to investigate Murdoch’s News Corp. under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act because of allegations that Murdoch’s British operations paid bribes to police officers. (I can’t believe I’m linking to Eliot Spitzer.)

Even a few days ago, some critics doubted Murdoch would fall because of all the powerful friends he had made. It’s clear now — it should have been then — that he has no friends. He had allies he cultivated, and he was able to do so because they feared him. Now the fear is gone. Instructive is this New York Times story on how quickly British prime minister David Cameron is moving away from him. Far more entertaining is this Simon Jenkins commentary in the Guardian, which I guess is sort of a defense of Murdoch. Roasted genitals figure prominently.

Kudos to the Guardian (for whom I am a contributing writer), which has led the way on breaking the Murdoch story. You can follow its coverage here.

Also worth bookmarking is Greg Mitchell’s “Murdoch Watch” blog at the Nation. Mitchell is nothing if not comprehensive, as he has proved by blogging WikiLeaks developments over the past seven months. The WikiLeaks story may have allegations of sex, but for my money the Murdoch story is a lot sexier.

Photo (cc) by the World Economic Forum and republished here under a Creative Commons licnese. Some rights reserved.