By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Category: Media Page 2 of 253

How Larry Lucchino saved The Boston Phoenix — and how the Phoenix saved Fenway Park

Larry Lucchino, right, celebrates the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series win. Photo (cc) 2013 by Alicia Porter.

Former Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who died Tuesday at the age of 78, not only saved Fenway Park — he also saved The Boston Phoenix. His friend and former Red Sox executive Charles Steinberg recalled in an interview with WBUR Radio earlier this week that he once asked Lucchino whether he planned to replace the ancient ballpark. Lucchino’s response: “You don’t destroy the Mona Lisa! You preserve the Mona Lisa!”

In the years before the John Henry-Tom Werner group bought the Red Sox in 2001, the fate of Fenway Park was far from clear. The previous owner — a trust set up by the late Jean Yawkey and headed by Yawkey confidant John Harrington — wanted to build a new ballpark farther south on Brookline Avenue. And that would have required the razing of 126 Brookline Ave., an office building owned by Phoenix publisher Stephen Mindich. The building’s second and third floors were occupied by the Phoenix.

Mindich declared war on Harrington’s plans, and the Phoenix was mobilized on his behalf. My friend Seth Gitell and I as well as others, including future Wall Street Journal sports columnist Jason Gay, inveighed against the proposal, arguing that a new ballpark would be better suited to a different neighborhood, such as what is now the Seaport District but was then a barren landscape of parking lots.

One of the last stories we published before the Red Sox were sold came in December 2001. Written by Seth and me, it includes this:

But if the winner of this high-stakes sweepstakes has yet to be named, it’s already clear who the loser will be. Us. Us as in baseball fans. Us as in taxpaying citizens. Us as in ordinary people who occasionally enjoy the simple pleasure of attending a game at the ballpark or tuning in the Sox on TV without having to pay through the nose.

Well, we were certainly right about the cost of attending a game and of NESN cable fees.

There were all kinds of names being bandied about at that time, including cable magnate Charles Dolan as well as local favorites Joe O’Donnell and Steve Karp. Dolan was thought to favor keeping Fenway, telling The Boston Globe: “If they can’t watch the game here, they can watch it on TV.”

But the Henry group was coming together, and it was clear that then-Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig was hoping to steer the sale Henry’s way. That’s exactly what happened later that month, with Lucchino brought in as part of the ownership group and emerging as the main cheerleader for refurbishing Fenway Park rather than demolishing it. As the force behind Baltimore’s retro Camden Yards, the first of the new generation of classic ballparks, Lucchino was the ideal person to lead that effort.

The Phoenix was saved, at least for the time being; it shut down in 2013, falling victim to the economic forces that had been battering the newspaper business. Henry bought the Globe later that year and slowly transformed it into a growing and profitable paper. And the Red Sox, playing in the iconic ballpark that John Harrington wanted to tear down, won World Series in 2004, 2007, 2013 and 2018, although they are currently in the midst of an uncertain rebuilding process.

Larry Lucchino deserves credit for giving the Phoenix another dozen good years. And Stephen Mindich, who died in 2018, deserves some credit for saving Fenway Park in the years before Lucchino arrived on the scene.

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Israel must be held to account for the targeting and killing of journalists

Protest in Tel Aviv against the Netanyahu government last June. Photo (cc) 2023 by RG TLV.

CNN media reporter Oliver Darcy wrote an important analysis last week about journalists who have been killed by Israeli forces in the the Gaza war. Citing figures from the Committee to Protect Journalists, Darcy observes that at least 95 journalists have been killed since Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel last Oct. 7, and that all but five of those journalists are Palestinian — the highest death toll for members of the press since CPJ began tracking such casualties in 1992.

In addition to deaths that might be attributed to the fog of war, there have also been killings that Israel carried out despite what appear to be clear indications that it was targeting media workers. Darcy writes that the United Nations recently finished a report showing that Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah had been killed in southern Lebanon after a tank fired at a group of “clearly identified journalists.” Israeli officials responded to the U.N. that it “does not deliberately shoot at civilians, including journalists.”

In addition, The Washington Post last week found that a Jan. 7 missile attack resulting in the deaths of two Al Jazeera journalists and two freelancers in southern Gaza may have lacked any military justification. The Israeli military claimed it had “identified and struck a terrorist who operated an aircraft that posed a threat to IDF troops” — but the Post found that the “aircraft” was a drone apparently being used for reporting purposes.

Darcy includes accounts of Palestinian journalists who have alleged been abused by Israeli forces as well — a topic that is the subject of a new report from CPJ, which “found multiple kinds of incidents of journalists being targeted while carrying out their work in Israel and the two Palestinian territories, Gaza and the West Bank” as well as the deaths of journalists’ families.

CPJ has posted an open letter signed by 36 leaders of top U.S. and international news organizations calling Israel to end its attacks on journalists. Among the Americans the letter are Julie Pace, the executive editor of The Associated Press; Mark Thompson, the chair and CEO of CNN; A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of The New York Times; Sally Buzbee, the executive editor of The Washington Post; Kim Godwin, the president of ABC News; and Rebecca Blumenstein, the president of editorial at NBC News. Significantly, the international news leaders signing the letter include Aluf Benn, the editor-in-chief of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The letter includes this:

Journalists are civilians and Israeli authorities must protect journalists as noncombatants according to international law. Those responsible for any violations of that longstanding protection should be held accountable. Attacks on journalists are also attacks on truth. We commit to championing the safety of journalists in Gaza, which is fundamental for the protection of press freedom everywhere.

This weekend, as NPR reports, tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netananyu, calling for a deal with Hamas to release the more than 100 hostages the terrorist group is still believed to be holding.

The horrendous situation in the Middle East began with Hamas’ attacks, claiming some 1,200 lives and leading to Israel’s invasion of Gaza, which have killed more than 30,000 people, mostly civilians. Starvation looms. President Biden has been ever-so-slowly been backing away from the Netanyahu government, allowing a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire and the release of the hostages to take effect.

Israel’s targeting of media workers is a small part of a much larger picture — a horrendous problem that would seem to have no good solution. But let’s start with this: Journalists are the world’s eyes and ears. They need to be able to tell us what is taking place on the ground without fear of being killed.

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Bring him home

Via CNN

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It’s worth saying again: Let’s stop paying partisan political hacks to bloviate on TV

Reporting for double duty: Donna Brazile was a paid bloviator for CNN while she was also deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. Photo (cc) by Tim Pierce.

I’ve been arguing against hiring partisan political commentators for years, including three times (here, here and here) in the past week. Now NPR’s media reporter, David Folkenflik, has written a smart analysis questioning the practice, which has come under renewed scrutiny following NBC News’ hiring and firing of the election-denying, Trump-enabling Ronna McDaniel, former chair of the Republican National Committee. Folkenflik writes:

The networks — not just NBC — want to be able to rely on a stable of people to show up and be lively and informed on the air, often with little notice. They want to make sure they have voices reflecting an array of views from both parties. And they want exclusivity, which means they want to prevent the same high-profile figures from appearing on their competitors’ shows.

The hiring of McDaniel made conventional sense under this rubric.

We do not live in conventional times.

Indeed we do not, and if there’s a reason to have someone like McDaniel on the air, surely that can be accomplished without paying her $300,000 a year. After all, “Meet the Press” host Kristen Welker pointed out that McDaniel had already been scheduled to appear this past Sunday, as she had previously. One of the first rules of journalistic ethics is that we don’t pay sources, except, apparently, party hacks.

In fact, as Folkenflik reminds us, CNN actually stooped even lower than NBC by paying Democratic operative Donna Brazile while she was deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee. As he asks: “There are more than 330 million Americans and thousands of political professionals. Why pay for the right to interview them? Does anyone think Newt Gingrich will boycott television appearances if he’s not paid?”

The problem, of course, is that television news outlets, particularly cable, have endless hours to fill, and talk shows are a lot cheaper than actual journalism. But I would argue that the McDaniel fiasco offers an opportunity to revisit the whole practice of hiring political figures, Democrat or Republican, to come on the air and offer predictable talking points, all while keeping one eye on their next chance to get back in the game.

You can simultaneously believe (as I do) that hiring McDaniel was many bridges too far because of her election denialism on behalf of Donald Trump — and that the time has also come to stop throwing money at any political operatives.

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GBH becomes the latest public media outlet to eye layoffs

Given what’s going on in public media in general and at WBUR Radio in Boston specifically, this seemed inevitable. Aidan Ryan of The Boston Globe reports that GBH, the television and radio powerhouse, is considering layoffs in the face of shrinking revenues.

“Like many other media outlets, GBH is facing financial headwinds,” GBH chief executive Susan Goldberg told the Globe in a statement. “We are looking at a variety of ways to address this, including eliminating end-of-year bonuses across the organization. While final decisions have not yet been made, layoffs are not off the table.”

Disclosure: As many of you know, I was a paid contributor to GBH News from 1998 to 2022.

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McDaniel is out. But don’t get your hopes up that network execs have learned a lesson.

Ronna McDaniel. Photo (cc) 2018 by Gage Skidmore.

Ronna McDaniel is out at NBC News. Veteran media critic David Zurawick writes for CNN, “It was two days of the most aggressive, public and passionate pushback by employees against a decision by their bosses that I have seen in 35 years of covering the media.” His lead:

As wrongheaded as it was on so many levels, NBC’s decision to hire former Republican National Committee (RNC) chair Ronna McDaniel as a contributor might actually have done the nation a favor. The highly controversial move has helped drive a crucial conversation about the role of media in our political life at this moment of democratic crisis.

The NBC executives who thought this was a great idea really had no choice. Hosts on MSNBC from Rachel Maddow to Joe Scarborough said they wouldn’t have her on, and she was finished on NBC itself after she was eviscerated on “Meet the Press,” first by Kristen Welker, then in a post-interview commentary by Chuck Todd. It will be interesting to see whether anyone at the network will pay the price for this boneheaded move.

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As I’ve said before, I’m trying to balance two impulses. On the one hand, I don’t think the networks should hire any partisan players to bloviate on their airwaves, Democrat or Republican. Let’s hear from journalists. On the other hand, since they’re going to continue making such hires, I think it’s useful to differentiate someone like McDaniel, who amplified Donald Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, from your run-of-the-mill Trump-friendly commentator. Several observers have pointed out that CNN once hired the loathsome Corey Lewandowski, but that was during the pre-insurrection days when Trump was merely a racist sociopath rather than a budding authoritarian dictator.

Rather than learning the lesson that Zurawick is hoping for, my guess is that NBC executives are probably now going to feel pressured to hire a less toxic Trumper, someone like Marc Thiessen (currently on Fox News) or Byron York (ditto). And no, no one at Fox feels similarly pressured to bring in a liberal Joe Biden supporter. That’s not the way it works.

Earlier:

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WBUR offers buyouts to staff members

Cuts have begun at WBUR Radio (90.9 FM), with CEO Margaret Low announcing that the station needs to reduce spending by $4 million, or about 10%, in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Employees are being offered a voluntary buyout, although it’s not expected to be enough. “We anticipate that we’ll still need to freeze some open roles and do layoffs, but we’re hoping to eliminate as few jobs as possible,” Low wrote on the WBUR website. Aidan Ryan of The Boston Globe has more.

Earlier:

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When The Associated Press failed to stand up to the Nazis

A new book, “Newshawks in Berlin,” by Larry Heinzerling and Randy Herschaft, details the shameful coddling of the Nazis before and during World War II at the hands of The Associated Press’ Berlin bureau. Tunku Varadarajan reviews it (free link) for The Wall Street Journal. There are echoes of my Northeastern colleague Laurel Leff’s book “Buried by the Times,” about The New York Times’ playing down of the Holocaust.

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California dreaming

It’s hard to know exactly what’s going on here. But Lana Bellamy of the Times Union in Albany, New York, has a story about a local district attorney named David Hoovler who’s been working with a public relations agency in Cheyenne, Wyoming, to produce favorable stories about him that are published in pink-slimy websites like California Weekly. My guess is that Hoovler’s getting ripped off.

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NBC News’ hiring of Ronna McDaniel sets off a crisis she may not survive

I did not watch Ronna McDaniel’s appearance on “Meet the Press” Sunday. Brian Stelter has a detailed summary on Threads, and that’s plenty for me. It sounds like host Kristen Welker found her voice and really went after McDaniel, who in her previous job as chair of the Republican National Committee regularly lied and engaged in election denialism on behalf of Donald Trump.

What I did see was former “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd’s remarkable takedown of NBC News executives for hiring McDaniel in the first place. Neither Welker nor Todd has a reputation for tough questioning; quite the opposite. But Welker really went after McDaniel, and Todd took the network to task, telling Welker that they “owe you an apology” and that it was impossible to “know what to believe” given McDaniel’s previous lies.

Good for both of them. A previous announcement that McDaniel would also pop up on MSNBC has been rescinded, so it’s hard to see what value she can provide to NBC News given the limited amount of time that it commands the network’s airwaves.

My instinct, as I wrote the other day, is to rip the presence of any partisan players on television news shows, whether Democrat or Republican. Clearly, though, the hiring of McDaniel has resonated in a way that, say, the hiring of Jen Psaki or Mick Mulvaney did not. Tom Jones of Poynter Online put it this way:

There’s no issue with NBC News hiring McDaniel as a contributor based on her politics alone…. However, the problem isn’t McDaniel’s views on, say, the economy or immigration or crime or abortion. The problem is McDaniel has a serious credibility problem. And her actions, most notably around the 2020 election, put the country and our very democracy at risk.

Similarly, Jon Allsop of the Columbia Journalism Review said that “the glaring problem with her hiring is not that she was (or is) a partisan hack or anything to do with her policy positions, but her deep complicity in Trump’s election denialism.” But he also offered some optimism, adding:

Perhaps ironically, this desperate episode has given rise to what I see as a very hopeful one: the performances on air yesterday of Todd and, especially, Welker. In the past, I’ve criticized “Meet the Press” (and the Sunday show format as a whole) for letting lying politicians off the hook, but Welker’s interview with McDaniel yesterday was one of the best I’ve seen on any such show in years: it was tenacious, devastatingly so, without being performatively confrontational or rude.

It’s pretty obvious that McDaniel’s hiring has set off a crisis at NBC News, one that may end only with the cancellation of her contract. For instance, Ryan Lizza reports in Politico that Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski spoke out against the hiring on air earlier today. I’m not entirely sure what I think about this. As I’ve said, I would lock the revolving door and not hire any of these folks, going right back to George Stephanopoulos, who years ago jumped from the Clinton White House into a cushy job at ABC News. A pox on all of them.

But McDaniel, as Jones and Allsop write, is different. We almost lost the country on Jan. 6, 2021 — and she brazenly told Welker that she saw it as her role to “take one for the team” rather than speak out. As Todd said, if she admits she wasn’t telling the truth then, how can we know that she’s telling the truth now?

More: I want to add that joining Todd on the panel were Boston Globe columnist Kimberly Atkins Stohr and Stephen Hayes, editor of The Dispatch, a Never Trump conservative website. They were both excellent as well, with Atkins Stohr pointing out that McDaniel worked with Trump in an attempt to toss out 2020 ballots cast by Black voters in her hometown of Detroit. The entire panel discussion about McDaniel can be seen here.

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