Tag Archives: New York Post

The James Foley video and bearing witness to evil

James Foley

James Foley

Previously published at WGBHNews.org.

The horrifying execution of journalist James Foley raises an uncomfortable if familiar question: Is there anything to be gained by watching the video of his beheading at the hands of an ISIS terrorist?

It’s a question that I explored 12 years ago, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was similarly murdered. I searched for the video online and found it at a website whose sick operators presented such fare for the entertainment of their disturbed viewers. I shared it with my friends at The Boston Phoenix, who — to my surprise — published several small black-and-white stills of Pearl’s beheading and provided a link to the full video. “This is the single most gruesome, horrible, despicable, and horrifying thing I’ve ever seen,” the Phoenix’s outraged publisher, Stephen Mindich, wrote in an accompanying editorial.

The Phoenix’s actions created a national controversy. I defended Mindich and editor Peter Kadzis, first in the Phoenix, later in Nieman Reports. (At the time I had left the paper to write my first book, though I continued to contribute freelance pieces. My departure turned out to be temporary. And Kadzis, my editor then, is also my editor now: he is the senior editor of WGBH News.) I wrote in the Nieman piece:

Daniel Pearl didn’t seek martyrdom, but martyrdom found him. The three-and-a-half-minute video shows us the true face of evil, an evil that manifested itself unambiguously last September 11…. We turn away from such evil at our peril.

I stand by what I wrote then, but I haven’t watched the execution of Jim Foley. In contrast to the Daniel Pearl footage, the Foley video is bright and clear, in high definition. I’ve watched a bit of it, listened to him speak while kneeling in the desert; but that was all I could handle.

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby takes a different view, writing, “The intrepid and compassionate reporter from New Hampshire didn’t travel to Syria to sanitize and downplay the horror occurring there. He went to document and expose it.”

I don’t disagree. But it should be a matter of choice. Gawker, among the first media outlets to post a link to the video, made sure its readers knew that what they would see if they clicked was “extremely disturbing.” By contrast, the New York Post and the Daily News published front-page images of Foley (I’ve linked to a Washington Post story, not the actual images) just before his beheading — in the New York Post’s case, barely a nanosecond before.

It’s a fine line, but I’d say Gawker was on the right side of it, and the New York tabloids were not.

At the time of his capture, Foley was freelancing for GlobalPost, the Boston-based international news organization. GlobalPost co-founder and chief executive Phil Balboni, in a tribute published in the Globe, wrote:

For those of us who knew Jim, the road ahead will be particularly long and trying. As a lifelong journalist, the path forward for me will be rooted in a renewed and profound respect for a profession that for Jim was not a job, but a calling.

And here is an interview with GlobalPost co-founder Charles Sennott, talking about Foley on WGBH Radio (89.7 FM).

We’ve learned a lot since the execution of Daniel Pearl. One of the things we’ve learned is that bearing witness does not necessarily lead to a good result. Years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have not created a safer world.

Do we have a right to view the James Foley video? Of course. Twitter, a private company that has become a virtual public utility, is heading down a dangerous road by banning images from the video. Should we watch the video as a way of witnessing unspeakable evil, as Jeff Jacoby argues? That, I would suggest, should be up to each of us.

Above all, we should honor the bravery and sacrifice of journalists like Daniel Pearl and James Foley, who take risks most of us can scarcely imagine. Let’s keep the Foley family in our thoughts, and celebrate the safe return of Peter Theo Curtis. And let’s send offer whatever good thoughts we can for Steven Sotloff, a fellow hostage of Foley’s who was threatened with death last week.

Why Rupert Murdoch probably won’t buy the Herald

Published earlier at WGBHNews.org.

Here’s the answer to today’s Newspaper Jeopardy question: “Maybe, if there’s a willing buyer and seller.”

Now for the question: “With Rupert Murdoch getting out of the Boston television market, is there any chance that he would have another go with the Boston Herald?”

Following Tuesday’s announcement that Cox Media Group would acquire WFXT-TV (Channel 25) from Murdoch’s Fox Television Stations as part of a Boston-San Francisco station swap, there has been speculation as to whether Murdoch would re-enter the Boston newspaper market. Universal Hub’s Adam Gaffin raises the issue here; the Boston Business Journal’s Eric Convey, a former Herald staff member, addresses it as well. I’ve also heard from several people on Facebook.

First, the obvious: There would be no legal obstacles if Murdoch wants to buy the Herald. The FCC’s cross-ownership prohibition against a single owner controlling a TV station and a daily newspaper in the same market would no longer apply.

Now for some analysis. Murdoch is 83 years old, and though he seems remarkably active for an octogenarian, I have it on good authority that he, like all of us, is not going to live forever. Moreover, in 2013 his business interests were split, and his newspapers — which include The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and the New York Post — are now in a separate division of the Murdoch-controlled News Corp. No longer can his lucrative broadcasting and entertainment properties be used to enhance his newspapers’ balance sheets.

Various accounts portray Murdoch as the last romantic — the only News Corp. executive who still has a soft spot for newspapers. The Herald would not be a good investment because newspapers in general are not good investments, and because it is the number-two daily in a mid-size market. Moreover, the guilty verdict handed down to former News of the World editor Andy Coulson in the British phone-hacking scandal Tuesday suggests that Murdoch may be preoccupied with other matters.

On the other hand, who knows? Herald owner Pat Purcell is a longtime friend and former lieutenant of Murdoch’s, and if Rupe wants to stage a Boston comeback, maybe Purcell could be persuaded to let it happen. Even while owning the Herald, Purcell continued to work for Murdoch, running what were once the Ottaway community papers — including the Cape Cod Times and The Standard-Times of New Bedford — from 2008 until they were sold to an affiliate of GateHouse Media last fall.

There is a storied history involving Murdoch and the Herald. Hearst’s Herald American was on the verge of collapse in 1982 when Murdoch swooped in, rescued the tabloid and infused it with new energy. Murdoch added to his Boston holdings in the late 1980s, acquiring Channel 25 and seeking a waiver from the FCC so that he could continue to own both.

One day as that story was unfolding, then-senator Ted Kennedy was making a campaign swing through suburban Burlington. As a reporter for the local daily, I was following him from stop to stop. Kennedy had just snuck an amendment into a bill to deny Rupert Murdoch the regulatory waiver he was seeking that would allow him to own both the Herald and Channel 25 (Kennedy’s amendment prohibited a similar arrangement in New York). At every stop, Herald reporter Wayne Woodlief would ask him, “Senator, why are you trying to kill the Herald?”

The episode also led Kennedy’s most caustic critic at the Herald, columnist Howie Carr, to write a particularly memorable lede: “Was it something I said, Fat Boy?” Years later, Carr remained bitter, telling me, “Ted was trying to kill the paper in order to deliver the monopoly to his friends” at The Boston Globe.

Murdoch sold Channel 25, but in the early 1990s he bought it back — and sold the Herald to Purcell, who’d been publisher of the paper, reporting to Murdoch, for much of the ’80s. It would certainly be a fascinating twist on this 30-year-plus newspaper tale if Murdoch and Purcell were to change positions once again.

What’s next for Kevin Convey?

Kevin Convey presents an award to boxing legend Joe Frazier last August.

Obviously Kevin Convey doesn’t wear the right kind of shoes.

Word came Wednesday afternoon that Convey, a former Boston Herald editor, was being replaced as editor of the New York Daily News (via Poynter). The new boss: Colin Myler, who was editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World when it was shut down amid the phone-hacking scandal. Myler was reportedly not involved, and even called out James Murdoch over his claims that he knew nothing about nothing.

According to Capital New York, Convey was seen by Daily News staffers as never quite fitting in during his two years at the helm. An unnamed source is quoted as saying that, among other things, “he dressed funny. What type of editor-in-chief wears Chuck Taylor All-Stars to work?” Well, there you go.

The shake-up at the Daily News gets a mention in the Boston Globe’s Names section today, and the Herald runs an Associated Press story that contains no reference to Convey’s Herald tenure (different in the print edition, perhaps?). The unanswered question is whether Herald publisher Pat Purcell would bring back Convey in some capacity. Convey’s a smart, interesting guy, and it would make sense to bring him in at least as a consultant, provided he wants to do it.

Now, follow the bouncing tabloid battles. Daily News owner Mort Zuckerman, whose roots are in Boston, hired Convey from the Herald, which used to be owned by Murdoch and whose current owner, Purcell, continues to have business ties to the “genocidal tyrant.”

Zuckerman’s competition, of course, is Murdoch’s New York Post. Now Zuckerman has replaced Convey with Myler, an old Murdoch hand who may be looking to get revenge. This should be fun.

Last year, David McKay Wilson profiled Convey for the Colby College alumni magazine. To shed further light on the scandal that brought Convey down, Wilson reports that Convey was wearing “black tasseled loafers” when they met — though without any socks.

“I haven’t worn socks in the summer for years,” Convey told Wilson. “I like cool beachy feet.” Hmmm.

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

Kevin Convey leaves Herald for New York’s Daily News

Big news today at One Herald Square: Kevin Convey, a longtime Herald veteran who’s been editor-in-chief for the past three-plus years, is leaving to become editor of New York’s Daily News. He replaces Martin Dunn, whose departure was reportedly prompted by his wife’s battle with cancer.

I haven’t seen this mentioned anywhere, but Dunn was editor of the Herald for a very brief period in the early 1990s.

Convey’s new job entails a switch of tabloid loyalties. In Boston, the Herald is allied with its former owner, Rupert Murdoch. Herald publisher Pat Purcell, who bought the paper from his old boss in 1994, helps Murdoch run regional properties such as the Standard-Times of New Bedford and the Cape Cod Times.

In New York, the Daily News — owned by real-estate mogul Mort Zuckerman, who also has significant Boston ties — has been entangled for years in a steel-cage death match with the New York Post, whose owner, of course, is Murdoch. Here is the Daily News’ press release, along with Convey’s reaction:

I am looking forward to the challenge of editing the Daily News, which has some of the most talented people in the newspaper business and the web anywhere in the world. It is a great privilege.

Convey’s a smart guy who took over the Herald at a time when the paper, and the news business in general, was shrinking drastically. During the 1990s, he was part of the triumvirate that ran the paper, serving as managing editor for features along with editor Andy Costello and managing editor for news Andrew Gully. The trio was known, sometimes affectionately, sometimes not, as the “Micks with Dicks,” a commentary on their aggression as much as it was on their ethnicity.

Convey became editor-in-chief of Community Newspaper Co., which published about 100 papers in Eastern Massachusetts, when Purcell added it to his holdings in the early 2000s. After Purcell sold CNC to GateHouse Media a few years later, Convey returned to the Herald, serving as the paper’s number-two while editorial director Ken Chandler, tarted it up and made it more gossipy — more of a tabloid, if you like. After Chander moved on, Convey took over.

Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wrote about Convey’s Herald in 2008.

Best of luck to Convey, who’s a good guy, and whom I generally found to be helpful and accessible back when I was covering the local media for the Boston Phoenix.

Needless to say, it will be fascinating to see who ends up succeeding Convey at the Herald.

Update: Well, that didn’t take long.

Correction: Ken Chandler’s name now fixed, thanks to an alert reader.

What Murdoch really wants in New York

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the just-unveiled New York edition of the Wall Street Journal doesn’t have to beat the New York Times in order for Journal owner Rupert Murdoch to accomplish his goal. Murdoch only has to make the Times bleed.

Maureen Dowd odds and ends

As the Maureen Dowd plagiarism story continues to wind down, a few stray pieces:

  • Despite Jack Shafer’s splendid suggestion that Dowd offer a full accounting of what happened in today’s column, she instead weighs in with an insipid imaginary conversation between Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Gah.
  • Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall, whose words were appropriated without credit by Dowd in her Sunday column, says he “never thought it was intentional,” and “that’s pretty much the end of it.”
  • The New York Post has picked up my Guardian column on the matter. Sure, I’m getting a kick out of it. But I’m also less than thrilled to be drafted by Rupert Murdoch into his ongoing pissing match with the Sulzbergers.