What was Dan Rather thinking?

I’ve really only got one thing to say about Dan Rather’s losing his lawsuit against CBS: What was he thinking?

OK, two things. When you’re caught passing off phony documents, you should smile and shut up, regardless of how badly your ex-employer might have behaved. Win or lose, there’s no way Rather could come out of this looking good.

Here’s what I wrote way back when.


That ’90s show

This week in the Guardian, I argue that the so-called liberal media are up to their old Clinton-era tricks: coddling the right lest they be accused of liberal bias.

Blogging takes a back seat

Please pardon the lack of blogging. I’m overcommitted this week, and, other than my students (of course!), my main priority is getting ready for tomorrow evening’s event with Princeton University professor Paul Starr and Boston Globe editor Marty Baron.

Hope to see you there.

Dan Totten addresses charges

The following e-mail, dated Friday, was sent by Boston Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten to Guild members. (The Boston Herald’s Jessica Heslam has been posting Guild communications as well.) Media Nation obtained a copy of Totten’s e-mail a short time ago.

Dear Boston Newspaper Guild Member;

The matter raised suddenly yesterday was in regard to a question regarding a counter-signature on my personal weekly paycheck. When this matter was originally discussed, I promptly provided an answer to our union Executive Committee. This matter was resolved to the satisfaction of the Executive Committee last Friday, September 18, 2009.

Now, there are those who are engaging in a political vendetta as a result of the hard feelings that remain in our Union following our contentious contract negotiation. While nobody could be happy with the outcome of what the NYT did to every member, some members who were not happy with the outcome of negotiations are manipulating a simple matter, in an attack against me.

I am prepared to address whatever questions anyone might have, according to our union’s process. I am dismayed and angered that these disgruntled individuals are seeking to discredit me publicly, but I must put the interest of our Union first, and will do so.

I look forward to resolving this matter swiftly and assure our membership that there has been no financial impropriety.

Again, all union funds remain intact and have always been so. The Boston Newspaper Guild does an excellent job of managing the funds that we are entrusted with, a fact I am certain will be clear to all once the review process is completed.

Daniel B. Totten
Boston Newspaper Guild
TNG – CWA Local 31245

A possible breakthrough for GlobalPost

David Carr’s report in the New York Times that Boston-based GlobalPost will partner with CBS News strikes me as a potentially significant development.

It’s unclear from Carr’s story exactly how much use CBS intends to make of GlobalPost’s journalism. But this could be just the boost that Phil Balboni, Charlie Sennott and company need to keep GlobalPost moving forward.

Particularly eye-catching were a couple of numbers. GlobalPost is reportedly attracting 400,000 unique visitors per month, which appears to impress Carr, but which strikes me as dangerously low — even if it’s as good as could be expected for a new project. (For purposes of comparison, the Boston Globe’s Web site, Boston.com, attracts between 4 million and 5 million unique visitors each month.)

Even worse, only a few hundred people have signed up for premium (paid) membership.

Anyone who’s perused the site, though, knows that GlobalPost’s journalism is both engaging and substantive. With network news divisions cutting their international reporting to the bone, GlobalPost has a real opportunity.

William Safire, civil libertarian

William Safire
William Safire

Former New York Times columnist William Safire, who died on Sunday at 79, brought three great passions to his work: a love of the English language; a devotion to dogged reporting; and an abiding commitment to civil liberties.

It was that last quality that brought Safire, a conservative who’d worked as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew, into frequent conflict with the Republican Party — though, as he was quick to point out, the Democrats have frequently been no prize when it comes to civil liberties, either.

I did a bit of digging this morning and came up with a few examples of Safire on civil liberties. Enjoy.

On George H.W. Bush’s campaign against Michael Dukakis:

George Bush, now that he’s ahead, is adopting a Flying Rose Garden strategy, ducking interviews. Worse, his campaign has been taking cheap shots at the American Civil Liberties Union, which leads me to believe he would extend the intrusive “lie-detector” mania to enshrine secrecy — the most offensive legacy of the Reagan Administration. (Sept. 12, 1988)

On the Reagan administration’s contempt for governmental openness:

The Freedom of Information Act is a blessing for those who value a check on Government snooping. Individuals can now find out what the F.B.I. file says about them. Even better, individuals can force the Federal bureaucracy to disgorge rulings made without public scrutiny, and documents more politically embarrassing than secret.

Mr. Reagan’s Attorney General evidently finds the Freedom of Information Act an annoyance. He has reversed the policy supporting F.O.I.A. followed by Carter Attorney General Griffin Bell, and now the Justice Department intends to help bureaucrats who wish to hide their dealings from taxpayers. (Mr. Bell is looking better every day.) (May 25, 1981)

On FBI Director Louis Freeh’s post-Oklahoma City plan to spy on suspected domestic terrorists:

I think the ever-popular Director Freeh — dutifully following the lead of President Clinton in politically exploiting the public’s rage at bombers — is proposing a bureaucratic subversion of our civil liberties….

To the applause of voters fearful of terrorism, the proactivists declare their intent to prevent crime. This would be followed by surveillance of suspect groups by new technology; the infiltration of political movements deemed radical or violence-prone; and the stretching of the guidelines put in place 20 years ago to restrain yesterday’s zealots. (May 8, 1995)

On an investigation of then-California congressman Gary Condit, thought by some to be involved in the disappearance of his intern Chanda Levy:

Now, in the spotlight of pitiless publicity, the police are overreacting in the other direction. Yesterday’s heavily covered search of Condit’s condo, at his invitation, was a stunt to show activity rather than a search for evidence. The “lie detector” test, requested by the Levy family, will be worse than a stunt — it is a civil-liberties abomination. Condit is “not a suspect,” the police keep saying, but even the unaccused have rights. (July 12, 2001)

On the difference between Democrats and Republicans:

Democratic liberals are fine on civil liberties, standing up against random drug and polygraph tests — but where are they when you need them to defend freedom in Central America? Republican conservatives are dandy at cutting Federal spending, but why do they think they can flutter me as a condition of employment or coerce my kid to pray in school? (April 16, 1987)

On the post-9/11 agenda of John Poindexter, convicted of criminal wrongdoing in the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s, who had emerged as a top adviser to then-president George W. Bush:

This ring-knocking master of deceit is back again with a plan even more scandalous than Iran-contra…. Poindexter is now realizing his 20-year dream: getting the “data-mining” power to snoop on every public and private act of every American.

Even the hastily passed U.S.A. Patriot Act, which widened the scope of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and weakened 15 privacy laws, raised requirements for the government to report secret eavesdropping to Congress and the courts. But Poindexter’s assault on individual privacy rides roughshod over such oversight. (Nov. 14, 2002)

With President Obama proving to be something of a disappointment on civil liberties and governmental openness, it’s a shame that Safire’s voice has been silenced.

Guild treasurer addresses Totten charges

The following e-mail has been sent to the members of the Boston Newspaper Guild, the largest union at the Boston Globe. A copy was obtained by Media Nation earlier today.

September 25, 2009

Dear Colleague,

I understand that many questions have arisen from yesterday’s e-mail from the Executive Committee regarding alleged financial impropriety by BNG President Daniel Totten.

As treasurer, I have a fiduciary responsibility, which I take very seriously. I intend to fulfill that responsibility to the fullest extent.  I assure you that the Executive Committee is asserting due diligence on this matter. Once made aware of the situation, the appropriate steps were taken to ensure the safety of your union funds.

The second order of business was to notify you. It would have been preferable to notify you, and file the charges simultaneously. But time constraints did not allow that to happen. We took the position that notification was our next priority.

We are guided in this process by the constitution of the CWA [the Communications Workers of America], our parent union. The by-laws require that charges be filed within 60 days from the time an offense becomes known.  I intend to draft the charges and file them early next week with our Recording Secretary Kathy McCabe, as required by the by-laws. We are well within the 60 day time frame. After they are filed, members will be notified of the details of the charges.

I know that there may be more questions as this process moves forward. We are working with the guidance of legal counsel from both the CWA and the BNG. We will keep you updated as more information becomes available.

In closing, I ask for your patience.

In Unity,

Patrice Sneyd,
Treasurer BNG