A weird Red Sox season ends on a down note

Red Sox-Yankees at Fenway Park. Photo (cc) 2018 by Daniel Hartwig.

What a weird Red Sox season. They played way over their heads for three months, were lousy for two and a half months, got incredibly hot and then stopped hitting. They were more fun than anyone thought they’d be on Labor Day. But Chaim Bloom has work to do.

Musts: two additional good starting pitchers (maybe Chris Sale can be one of them), a completely revamped bullpen and better defense. I don’t want to see Kyle Schwarber playing first base again. Maybe they can talk J.D. Martinez into leaving, which would open up the DH position. I’m sure they’d like to, even though he can still hit.

Although it would be a luxury, I’d also like to see them figure out how to get more consistency out of the offense as well. Still, offense is not what’s wrong with this team.

Finally, I was upset when the Sox brought back Alex Cora given his role in the Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal — and his possible role in a lesser Red Sox scandal in 2018. He proved himself once again to be the best manager in Sox history other than Terry Francona, and he seems to be genuinely contrite.

But to echo one of my Facebook friends, he needs to take the next step and tell us exactly what happened in 2017. His role in all that is still kind of a mystery, even though we know what happened in general terms.

The Globe gets on the Wu train

No surprise, but The Boston Globe editorial board has endorsed Michelle Wu for mayor over Annissa Essaibi George.

How new threats to libel protections could weaken Times v. Sullivan

Is this Devin Nunes’ cow? Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Trouble has been bubbling for the past several years regarding libel protections for the press.

In 2019, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that it was time to reconsider the landmark 1964 ruling of New York Times v. Sullivan, which decreed that public officials can’t bring a successful libel suit unless they can prove that false, defamatory material about them was published in the knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard for the truth. (That standard was later extended to public figures as well.)

Then, as I wrote earlier this year, Thomas was joined by Justice Neil Gorsuch in an opinion so slick you could slip on it and get hurt.

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Next week, the court will consider whether to hear two libel cases that would give them an opportunity to weaken the Times v. Sullivan protections. Thomas and Gorsuch may prove to be outliers, but given the court’s new supercharged conservative majority, we shouldn’t take anything for granted. First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams writes in The New York Times:

Should the court agree to hear one or both of the libel cases does not mean, of course, that either or both would be overruled…. But it is troubling that two of the court’s nine justices have criticized Sullivan and seem ready to overrule it. Only four votes are required for the full court to take up cases, and if it does so, a fifth would be needed for any ruling.

And that’s not the only sign of trouble on the libel front. Erik Wemple of The Washington Post details a bizarre case involving U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican who is so litigious that he once sued a Twitter account called “Devin Nunes’ Cow.”

I’m not going to go deep into the details; Wemple’s got that nailed down for you. But the outline of it is that Nunes sued the journalist Ryan Lizza over an article he wrote for Esquire. Nunes’ libel claim appears to be hanging by a thread — again, because it seems unlikely that Nunes will be able to meet the Times v. Sullivan standard. But at some point after he filed his lawsuit, Lizza tweeted out a link to the article. Nunes, of course, claimed that was libelous as well.

Rather than tossing the Twitter claim, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit have kept it alive for further consideration, “even though” as Wemple writes, “other courts have ruled that just linking to a long-standing story doesn’t constitute ‘republication.'” The court ruled that because Nunes’ suit put Lizza on notice that his story might contain falsehoods, then he should have refrained from tweeting it out (never mind that Lizza insists his story was true). But Wemple quotes Jeffrey Pyle, a Boston-based First Amendment lawyer at Prince Lobel Tye:

Until now, the courts have been unanimous that hyperlinks, retweets, and other references to allegedly defamatory articles are not “republications.” The Eighth Circuit departs from this consensus without much, if any, explanation why.

Journalists are able to do the work they do because they don’t have to worry about frivolous lawsuits. That has now come under question, and we all need to keep a close eye on what happens next.

Bret Stephens speaks out against cancellation of Nikole Hannah-Jones

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens has spoken out against the cancellation of a speaking appearance by his Times colleague Nikole Hannah-Jones at the Middlesex School in Concord. Stephens is an alumnus and a member of the board of trustees. Stephens told Christopher Galvin of Boston.com:

I had no knowledge that an invitation had been extended to Nikole. I had nothing to do with the decision not to bring her to the school. The first I heard about it was when someone sent me her tweet… I don’t believe in canceling speakers.

Stephens is a conservative who has written critically about the 1619 Project, a reimagining of the role of slavery in American history that Hannah-Jones oversaw and for which she won a Pulitzer Prize.

Good for him for standing on principle.

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The latest Nikole Hannah-Jones snub is not going to end well for the Middlesex School

Eliot Hall at the Middlesex School. Public domain photo by Daderot.

I think it’s pretty obvious that we’re only in the beginning stages of learning the story behind the Middlesex School’s decision to invite, and then uninvite, New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones to speak during Black History Month. Middlesex is an exclusive prep school in Concord. Hannah-Jones is best known for the 1619 Project, a reimagining of the role of slavery in American history that won her a Pulitzer Prize.

What always amazes me when something like this happens is the failure of the imagination we see on the part of those in charge. Does David Beare, the head of school who issued a limp statement about concerns over “individuals from outside our community” making a ruckus, really think this is going to end well either for the school or for him? This is not North Carolina.

A few other points worth noting. Among the school’s trustees is New York Times columnist Bret Stephens, a conservative and frequent critic of so-called cancel culture. Will he speak up on behalf of his Times colleague? Another prominent trustee is Cass Sunstein, a well-known Harvard Law School professor and a good bet to criticize this abomination.

Of possibly more significance is that Robert and Anne Bass are both vice presidents of the board. As Gabriel Snyder observes, the Basses are “part of a billionaire family that has bankrolled a lot of campus conservative outrage over the years.”

Stay tuned. There is going to be much more to come, I’m sure.

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Why does the media shrug over claims that former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski bragged about killing two men?

Corey Lewandowski grabs a female reporter at a 2016 Trump rally. Photo via police video.

Did a member of Donald Trump’s inner circle tell a woman he was trying to pick up that he’d killed two men during his misspent youth? And if he did say that, was he telling the truth — or was he merely boasting?

Read the rest at GBH News.

Bari Weiss, James Bennet and the selective omission of relevant facts

I had a chance on Monday to listen to Brian Stelter’s CNN podcast with Bari Weiss, the semi-conservative journalist who left The New York Times over what she perceived as an overabundance of left-wing groupthink.

It was an interesting conversation. I agreed with some of what Weiss had to say and disagreed with some of it. But I was put off by the revisionist history she espoused about the resignation of James Bennet as editorial-page editor of The New York Times. Stelter didn’t push back. I will.

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Weiss offered up as fact the notion that Bennet was forced out of the Times in 2020 solely because he published an op-ed piece by Sen. Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, calling for military force to be used against Black Lives Matter protesters. She described a letter signed by Times staffers saying that Cotton’s op-ed put their lives in danger as “craziness.”

And yes, Bennet’s departure came shortly thereafter. But here are a few facts that neither Weiss nor Stelter brought up:

  • After Bennet defended Cotton’s op-ed, it was learned that he hadn’t even bothered to read it before it was published — an inexcusable dereliction of duty.
  • Shortly before the Times published Cotton’s op-ed, Cotton called for the government to give “no quarter” to looters. As The Bulwark, a conservative website pointed out, giving no quarter in military terms means to kill indiscriminately — a war crime. Cotton, a veteran, knows that. Unfortunately, neither Bennet nor any other Times editor asked Cotton to address that in his op-ed.
  • In late 2019, Times columnist Bret Stephens suggested that Ashkenazi Jews might be genetically more intelligent than other people. Bennet allowed him to clean it up unscathed, although Stephens did have to suffer the indignity of an Editor’s Note being appended to his column. As Politico media critic Jack Shafer wrote at the time, “The Times disavowal and re-edit (tellingly neither co-signed nor acknowledged by Stephens) was too little and too late — if you’re going to edit a piece, the smart move is to edit before it publishes.” That, ahem, would be Bennet’s job. Wonder if he read that one before it was published?
  • Sarah Palin has sued the Times for libel over a 2017 editorial in which Bennet personally added language suggesting that a map published by Palin’s PAC, festooned with crosshairs, incited the shooting that severely wounded then-U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others. There is no evidence — none — that the mentally ill shooter ever even saw the map. The lawsuit is still pending.

In other words, the mishandled Tom Cotton op-ed was merely the last in a series of banana peels that Bennet stepped on. It’s a wonder he lasted as long as he did.

After leaving the Times, Weiss moved to Substack and started the newsletter Common Sense. She is currently in the process of hiring a team of opinion writers to create what she told Stelter will be “the op-ed page that I want to read.”

Well, if the selective omission of relevant facts is what she wants to read — and wants to publish — then  you can count me out.

A pioneering cooperatively owned media outlet turns off the lights

Update: Laura Hazard Owen has more — a lot more — at Nieman Lab. Pretty ugly stuff.

***

The Devil Strip, a pioneering cooperatively owned magazine in Akron, Ohio, has closed its doors. More of an arts and culture outlet than a news organization, the operation has nevertheless stood as a successful example of an independent project owned by its employees and the community.

WKYC reports that the end came over the weekend — staff members were told on Friday that the money had run out, and on Monday they received layoff notices. The station adds:

Founded in 2014, The Devil Strip was a community-owned magazine that focused on music, arts, news, and culture in Akron. For as little as a dollar a month, readers had the opportunity to become members of the co-op. An investment of $330 allowed you to become a co-owner.

More from The Devil Strip’s Twitter account:

In March 2020, I spent a week in Northern California reporting on The Mendocino Voice, a for-profit news site that was converting to cooperative ownership. At that time the founders, publisher Kate Maxwell and editor Adrian Fernandez Baumann, told me that The Devil Strip was one of the projects they had studied.

I hope The Devil Strip might be able to reorganize and come back, though the tweet makes it sound like they’ve hit the end of the road. Founder Chris Horne has not tweeted about it except for a cryptic reference to a “sabbatical.” I’m sure he’ll have more to say soon.

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The ugly truth about Eric Clapton — and the line between the art and the artist

Eric Clapton. Photo (cc) 2009 by Andrea Young.

Eric Clapton was one of my first musical heroes. As an aspiring blues guitarist of soaring ambitions and slight talent, I played his greatest album — Derek and Dominos’ “Layla” (No. 6 on my all-time list, by the way) — over and over again, trying to figure out what he was doing on songs like “Key to the Highway” and “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.” I saw him at the Boston Garden in 1974, one of my first rock concerts. A full-page ad for that show from one of the alt-weeklies (probably The Real Paper) was on my bedroom wall. Clapton was and is a great guitarist, and by all appearances seemed to be a humble, generous ambassador for the Black music that he championed.

But appearances can be deceiving. Throughout this year, bits and pieces of Clapton’s dark side have been emerging. He came out as an anti-vaxxer along with Van Morrison (at least we already knew he was a jerk). Old racist comments surfaced, along with his cringe-inducing I-apologize-but-not-really reactions.

Now Rolling Stone has pulled it all together (sub. req.) and added some details. A 5,000-word-plus story by David Browne reports on Clapton’s racist outbursts, focusing especially on a drunken rant he delivered at a Birmingham concert in 1976 during which he offered up some vile racial slurs and spoke favorably of a British politician named Enoch Powell, described in the article as the George Wallace of the U.K. Over the years Clapton has repeatedly apologized and blamed it on the booze; he has also repeatedly said it was no big deal and that he continues to think it was “funny.”

His current anti-vax crusade extends to sending money to a down-on-their-luck anti-vax band and playing shows in the U.S. before maskless audiences in the Deep Red South. As Browne writes:

For the longest time, anyone asked to rattle off Clapton’s accomplishments would cite the vital role he played in bringing blues and reggae into mainstream culture and his prodigious guitar playing. (There was a reason someone spray-painted “Clapton Is God” on a London subway wall in the mid-Sixties.) Others couldn’t help but remember the horrific tragedy of his four-year-old son’s death and the emotional catharsis of “Tears in Heaven.” But the current controversy is prompting a fresh examination of Clapton’s past behavior, which includes jarringly racist statements he made in the early part of his career. How did we get from admiration and empathy to bewilderment and even a feeling of betrayal?

Although it wasn’t in the Rolling Stone article, Twitter reminded me this week that Clapton admitted to raping his wife in the 1970s, back when he had serious alcohol and heroin addictions. That’s not an excuse — it’s just evidence of how low he had sunk.

Here we get to the age-old dilemma about separating the art from the artist. Clapton is a great artist. He’s also a racist anti-vaxxer who’s also admitted to sexual assault. That said, John Lennon, Miles Davis and any number of other great musicians could be pretty terrible people as well. Do we still want to listen to Clapton’s music? Is it possible to do so without thinking about Clapton the person?

Clapton has had an odd career, as he’s remained at least somewhat in the spotlight even though his last good album, “461 Ocean Boulevard,” was released nearly 50 years ago. He’s done it on the strength of a few hit singles here and there, especially the aforementioned “Tears in Heaven”; an overpraised blues album, 1994’s “From the Cradle,” that’s derivative and flat compared to “Layla”; and his live performances, which have included multiple televised benefit concerts on which his guitar wizardry has stolen the show.

Now, at 76, wealthy and successful, he’s tearing down his legacy. Maybe we can let Buddy Guy remind Clapton of how lucky he’s been. “The man can play,” he told Rolling Stone. “If somebody’s good, I don’t call you big, fat, or tall. He just bent those strings, and I guess he bent them right on time. The British exploded the blues and put it in places we didn’t put it. I wish I could have had the popularity he got. Maybe I wouldn’t have to work so damn hard.”

More: Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan takes a look at Rolling Stone under new editor Noah Shachtman and what the Clapton story says about his plans to toughen up the magazine’s coverage.

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Everybody’s talking about ‘Who Is the Bad Art Friend?’

I knew I wasn’t going to get around to reading “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?,” a wild piece published recently by The New York Times Magazine about plagiarism, narcissism and the nature of art. But after someone I interviewed last week started raving about it, I knew I couldn’t ignore it any longer.

Fortunately, the Times has posted the audio. The nearly 10,000-word article, by Robert Kolker, clocks in at slightly more than an hour. But it flew by, as it is beautifully written with compelling lead characters. I loved the ambiguity, too. At the end, I found the two writers at the heart of the story, Dawn Dorland and Sonya Larson, to be more or less equally sympathetic and flawed.

The story has a significant Boston angle, too, as the writers met and became friends — or at least acquaintances — at GrubStreet, a well-known creative writing center based in Boston.

Everyone’s been talking about it, but the sheer length might have put you off as it did me. Give it a read — or a listen. You’ll be glad you did.

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