Monthly Archives: February 2012

Olympia Snowe, a motorcycle rally and me

One of the more fun things I got to do during my years at the Boston Phoenix was drive to Augusta one weekend in 1999 to meet Maine’s senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, at a motorcycle rally. I started thinking about that story following Snowe’s announcement that she won’t seek re-election.

My article, by the way, appeared in the debut issue of the Portland Phoenix, which is still going strong more than a dozen years later. When you visit Portland (one of my favorite cities), you should be sure to pick up a copy.

Snowe’s career harks back to a time when there was such a thing as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Nonideological partisan politics had its shortcomings, but it did tend to minimize the gridlock and enmity that characterizes the national dialogue today.

Snowe’s announcement will also reduce the ranks of moderate New England Republican senators to just two: Collins and Scott Brown of Massachusetts. And that’s assuming Brown wins re-election this November against his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren.

Obama’s war on journalism and free expression

President Obama

This commentary also appears at the Huffington Post.

Kudos to David Carr of the New York Times for shining a light on an issue that doesn’t attract nearly the attention that it should: the Obama administration’s abuse of the Espionage Act, which in turn has led to a virtual war on journalism and free expression.

As Carr notes, the Espionage Act, approved in 1917 during the hysteria of World War I, was used three times before President Obama took office in 2009 — and six times during his presidency.

We live in a dangerous era, and there have been prosecutions with which it may be hard to disagree. Carr cites the case of Bradley Manning, who’s been charged with stealing national-security documents that are at the heart of the WikiLeaks disclosures.

But Carr also writes that leak prosecutions often seem to be aimed more at punishing people for embarrassing the government than for genuinely damaging national security. In a particularly ironic case, a former CIA officer named John Kiriakou has been charged with leaking the names of agents involved in interrogating terrorism suspects. Carr points out that “none of the individuals who engaged in or authorized the waterboarding of terror suspects have been prosecuted.”

(More about the Kiriakou case from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. Kiriakou has denied the charges.)

Kudos, too, to Jake Tapper of ABC News, whose confrontation with White House press secretary Jay Carney is the hook Carr uses to delve into the issue. A fuller account of Tapper and Carney’s exchange can be found here. Here’s Tapper responding to Carney’s praise for the journalist Marie Colvin, killed in Syria last week:

How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court? You’re — currently I think that you’ve invoked it the sixth time, and before the Obama administration, it had only been used three times in history. You’re — this is the sixth time you’re suing a CIA officer for allegedly providing information in 2009 about CIA torture. Certainly that’s something that’s in the public interest of the United States. The administration is taking this person to court. There just seems to be disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States.

I suspect Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have gotten a pass from many liberals because they believe a Republican president would be even worse on such matters. The fact is, though, that no president has been more aggressive than Obama in prosecuting suspected leakers.

And given the way the media work, it’s no surprise that they’ve said little, since the heart of what they do is respond to accusations. The storyline being promoted by Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich is that Obama is weak on national security, so they’re certainly not going to criticize the president for being too tough on leakers. Thus, no story.

When the government wants to take suspected leakers to court, it inevitably demands that journalists reveal their confidential sources. There is no constitutionally recognized right for journalists to protect their sources, and no federal shield law, which means that such cases have a considerable chilling effect on tough reporting.

In 2006, “Frontline” interviewed Mark Corallo, who was director of public affairs for George W. Bush’s first attorney general, John Ashcroft. In this transcript, you’ll see that Corallo, with the support of Ashcroft — not generally thought of as a friend of the First Amendment — approved only one subpoena for a journalist out of “dozens” that were requested. Corallo continued:

I can’t tell you about that case. It was a national-security case. I believed, after long reflection, that it did put innocent people’s lives in danger, our allies, people in other countries who would be subject to terrorist attacks. The case was so egregious; it was such a horrible instance of unethical behavior by a journalist to boot.

I hope Tapper’s tough questioning and Carr’s column are the beginning of a genuine attempt to hold the Obama White House to account for its repressive policies.

Hudak’s new venture hits an amusing snag

Blast from the past: the Hudakmobile, circa 2009

Far-right Republican politico William Hudak’s recent announcement that he was abandoning a congressional race in order to get involved in a multi-level marketing operation was amusing enough. But the comedy factor increased exponentially Tuesday when Julie Manganis reported in the Salem News that Hudak’s new business partner had pleaded guilty to promoting prostitution.

Albert Muir and his then-wife, Manganis writes, ran a “health spa” in Branford, Conn., called Marlow’s, which was shut down by authorities in late 2009. Muir, who is also described as a professional poker player, is serving a five-year suspended sentence. He told the News that he pleaded guilty because he was afraid his then-wife, who was seeking a divorce, would send him up the river.

Here is Marcia Chambers’ Branford Eagle account of the police raid of Dec. 2, 2009, which came about in part because Marlow’s openly advertised its services on Craigslist. Chambers reported that police considered the spa to be “a full-scale prostitution ring.” Muir’s then-wife, Jazmin Benavides, is named in the article, but Muir is not, although Mark Zaretsky of the New Haven Register identified Muir as the co-owner. Chambers told me by email yesterday that Muir was arrested and charged in March 2010 after police conducted a follow-up investigation.

Hudak says he didn’t know nothin’ about nothin’. As Manganis notes, Hudak made much of the legal woes facing Democratic congressman John Tierney’s family when he ran against him two years ago. Tierney’s wife, Patrice Tierney, ended up doing time for her role in what federal authorities described as an offshore money-laundering operation run by her brother. But Hudak tells the News that “I think you’re really stretching” when he was asked whether he should have known about his new BFF’s legal woes.

When Hudak ran against Tierney in 2010, he achieved notoriety for putting up posters on his Boxford property comparing then-candidate Barack Obama to Osama bin Laden and for questioning whether Obama was born in the United States — although he denied that he actually believed Obama was not an American citizen.

Hudak also claimed the day after Scott Brown’s victory over Martha Coakley in the 2010 U.S. Senate special election that Brown had endorsed him in the Republican primary. Brown’s office denied it, but then endorsed Hudak over Tierney that fall.

Unfortunately for Tierney, he won’t get to run against Hudak again. This time, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination is former state senator Richard Tisei of Wakefield, who was Charlie Baker’s running mate in the gubernatorial election in 2010.

Tisei is a smart, personable moderate. Combined with Tierney’s family issues, the North Shore probably represents the Republicans’ best chance to pick up a congressional seat in Massachusetts this fall.

New Haven Independent reboots its comments engine

Following a hiatus of nearly two weeks, the New Haven Independent has brought back reader comments — with new rules that founder and editor Paul Bass hopes will restore civility. Here’s my latest for the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012

Anthony Shadid in 2007

The death of Anthony Shadid is a terrible loss for journalism, for our understanding of the Middle East and for his family and friends. Like many people in the journalism community, I was shocked when word of Shadid’s passing hit Twitter last night.

Shadid had survived several close calls — getting shot in Ramallah, on the West Bank, when he was working for the Boston Globe in 2002, and being held by the Qaddafi regime in Libya with three other New York Times journalists earlier this year. It was supremely ironic that a 43-year-old would die of natural causes while covering the Syrian uprising, one of the most dangerous situations in the world.

I did not know Shadid, but I wrote about him twice when I was at the Boston Phoenix. This is strictly sidebar material, but it may be of interest.

The first time was in April 2002, when Globe editor Marty Baron flew to Israel to visit Shadid after after he was accidentally shot in the shoulder by an Israeli soldier while reporting in Ramallah. I was not able to talk with either Shadid or Baron, but I did speak with the Globe’s then-foreign editor, Jim Smith. “He thought it was important to be with Anthony,” Smith said. He added that Shadid, whose injuries were not life-threatening, was “extraordinarily lucky, if you can be shot and be said to be lucky.”

Two years later, I interviewed Shadid by email as part of a long story I wrote on the state of the Globe and the Boston Herald. Shadid had left the Globe for the Washington Post, and Ellen Barry (a former colleague of mine at the Phoenix) had left for the Los Angeles Times. (Both would end up at the New York Times.) Shadid, who was in Amsterdam en route to Bagdhad, said this about Baron:

In those days in the hospital, he acted as a colleague and a friend, and I appreciated it. As for leaving, the Globe made a real effort to keep me, one that came very close to being persuasive.

If you follow Baron on Twitter, you know how upset he was at Shadid’s death last night.

There are many accounts of Shadid’s life and work online already, but I want to call your attention to one written by Glen Johnson of the Globe. It turns out that he and Shadid were working in the Globe’s Washington bureau during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“This is the biggest story of our lives,” Johnson recalls Shadid telling him, and adds: “It was, especially for him.”

Photo (cc) by Terissa Schor and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Following up on those Senate fundraising numbers

I have figured out why there is a disparity between the U.S. Senate fundraising numbers in Brian Mooney’s Boston Globe story today and in the chart that accompanies his story. It involves the difference between itemized contributions (those of $200 or more) and non-itemized contributions. (My earlier item.)

Mooney’s story mentions it, but it’s unclear from the context what the significance is. Now I understand it, thanks to some labeling that’s been added to the chart since this morning. The Globe’s metro editor, Jen Peter, walked me through it as well.

I’ll explain this with the numbers reported for Sen. Scott Brown’s Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Warren. Warren reported raising $5.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2011. That number comprises both itemized and non-itemized contributions. Mooney reported that 61.3 percent of Warren’s itemized contributions were from out of state.

Now let’s turn to the chart, to which the phrase “Itemized donations available from FEC” was appended sometime after my first post. Here we learn that Warren raised $1.2 million in itemized in-state contributions during the fourth quarter and $1.9 million in itemized out-of-state contributions. That’s a total of $3.1 million. And yes, $1.9 million is 61.3 percent of $3.1 million.

What you can’t do, as I did earlier today, is take that 61.3 percent and apply it to Warren’s $5.7 million total. That’s because $2.6 million of that total is non-itemized, and thus there’s no way of knowing how much came from out of state and how much came from Massachusetts residents.

Bottom line: Brown beat Warren in itemized, in-state contributions by a margin of $1.5 million to $1.2 million. And we just have no way of knowing with respect to non-itemized contributions of less than $200.

Both Mooney’s story and the chart are accurate, but they are reporting different facts. Mooney does not mention Brown and Warren’s itemized totals; the chart does not mention their overall totals.

Much ado about not much? Yes. But it was a puzzle, and it reached a point where I was determined to solve it. So there you go.