Swartz case leads Media Nation’s top 10 of 2013

Aaron Swartz speaking in 2012
Aaron Swartz speaking in 2012

Last January, not long after the young Internet genius Aaron Swartz committed suicide, civil-liberties lawyer Harvey Silverglate wrote powerfully about the abusive prosecutorial tactics that may have led to his death.

Swartz faced a lengthy federal prison sentence for downloading academic articles at MIT without authorization. Even though the publisher, JSTOR, declined to press charges, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz brought a case agains Swartz under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. As Silverglate put it, the law is “a notoriously broad statute enacted by Congress seemingly to criminalize any use of a computer to do something that could be deemed bad.”

Silverglate’s article was republished in Media Nation with the permission of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, where it originally appeared. And it was far and away the most viewed article in Media Nation in 2013.

Today we present Media Nation’s top 10 posts for 2013, based on statistics compiled by WordPress.com. They represent a range of topics — from the vicissitudes of talk radio to a media conflict of interest, from Rolling Stone’s controversial cover image of accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the sad, sudden death of The Boston Phoenix.

The top 10 is by no means representative of the year in media. Certainly the biggest story about journalism in 2013 involved the National Security Agency secrets revealed by Edward Snowden to The Guardian and The Washington Post — a story that did not make the cut at Media Nation.

Here, then, is our unrepresentative sample for the past 12 months.

1. Harvey Silverglate on the Aaron Swartz case (Jan. 24). Few people were more qualified to weigh in on U.S. Attorney Ortiz’s abusive tactics than Silverglate, my friend and occasional collaborator, who several years ago wrote “Three Felonies a Day,” a book on how the federal justice system has spun out of control. But Silverglate’s take wasn’t the only article about Swartz to generate interest in Media Nation. The aftermath of Swartz’s suicide also came in at No. 11 (“The Globe turns up the heat on Carmen Ortiz,” Jan. 11) and No. 13 (“Aaron Swartz, Carmen Ortiz and the meaning of justice,” Jan. 14). In a bit of poetic justice, a project Swartz was working on at the time of his death — software that allows whistleblowers to submit documents without being identified — was unveiled by The New Yorker just several months after his suicide.

2. The New Republic’s new owner crosses a line (Jan. 28). A little more than a year ago, the venerable New Republic was saved by Chris Hughes, a co-founder of Facebook who is using some of his fortune to restore the magazine to relevance and fiscal health. But he crossed an ethical line last January when he took part in an interview with President Obama, whose campaign he had worked on, and tossed a series of softball questions his way. At the time I wrote that Hughes was guilty of “no more than a minor misstep.” So how did it rise to No. 2? It turns out that a number of right-leaning websites picked up on it, bringing a considerable amount of traffic to Media Nation that I normally don’t receive.

3. Dailies go wild over sports controversies (Aug. 30). Four months after publishing this item, I find it hard to make heads or tails of what was going on. But essentially Globe-turned-Herald sportswriter Ron Borges contributed to a Rolling Stone article on the Aaron Hernandez murder case, which generated some tough criticism from both the Globe and the well-known blog Boston Sports Media Watch. That was followed almost immediately by a Globe article on the ratings collapse of sports radio station WEEI (AM 850), which brought yet more tough talk from, among others, ’EEI morning co-host Gerry Callahan, who also happens to write a column for the Herald. Yes, Boston is a small town.

4. Rolling Stone’s controversial cover (July 17). I thought it was brilliant. I still do. The accusion that Rolling Stone was trying to turn Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into some sort of pop-culture hero is absurd and offensive — and not borne out by the well-reported article that the cover was designed to illustrate.

5. Glenn Ordway walks the ratings plank (Feb. 14). Ordway built sports talker WEEI into a ratings monster only to see its numbers crater in the face of competition from the Sports Hub (WBZ-FM, 98.5). Ordway was by no means the problem with WEEI. But station management decided it could no longer afford his $500,000 contract, and so that was it for the Big O.

6. A big moment for The Boston Globe (Dec. 17). It was actually a big year for the Globe, from its riveting coverage of the marathon bombing and the standoff that led to the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to the paper’s acquisition by Red Sox principal owner John Henry. But two days in mid-December were emblematic of the paper’s continuing excellence and relevance — a long, detailed exposé of the Tsarnaev family that revealed Dzhokhar, rather than his older brother, Tamerlan, may have been the driving force behind the bombing; an investigation into a case of alleged “medical child abuse” that pitted a Connecticut family against Children’s Hospital; and a nationally celebrated series of tweets by staff reporter Billy Baker about a Boston teenager from a poor family who had been admitted to Yale.

7. The Boston Phoenix reaches the end of the road (March 14). A stalwart of the alternative-weekly scene and my professional home from 1991 to 2005, the Phoenix was a voice of incalculable importance. But with even the legendary Village Voice struggling to survive, the alt-weekly moment may have passed. At the time of its death, the Phoenix had more than 100,000 readers — but little revenue, as advertising had dried up and both the print edition and the website were free. I scribbled a few preliminary thoughts in this post, and later wrote something more coherent for PBS MediaShift.

8. The return of Jim Braude and Margery Eagan (Feb. 6). Eagan and Braude’s morning show was the one bright spot on WTKK Radio, an otherwise run-of-the-mill right-wing talk station that had been taken off the air a month earlier. So it was good news indeed when the pair was hired to host “Boston Public Radio” from noon to 2 p.m. on public station WGBH (89.7 FM). (Note: (I am a paid contributor to WGBH-TV’s “Beat the Press,” where Eagan is a frequent panelist.)

9. Joe Scarborough grapples with history — and loses (Feb. 17). Asking cable blowhard Scarborough to write a review for The New York Times Book Review about the relationship between Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon could have been a smart, counterintuitive move. But it only works if the writer in question is, you know, smart.

10. The bell tolls for WTKK Radio (Jan. 3). As I already mentioned, Jim Braude and Margery Eagan were able to walk away from the rubble of WTKK, which was shut down by corporate owner Greater Media and turned into an urban music station. Just a few years earlier the station had been a ratings success with trash-talking hosts like Jay Severin and Michael Graham. But tastes change — sometimes for the better.

Photo (cc) by Maria Jesus V and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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Cy Young approved this message

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Statue of Cy Young at Northeastern University. The Red Sox used to play on land that is now part of the Northeastern campus, and hosted several World Series here. Looks like Cy was ready to go if Koji faltered.

We are alive

Click for the GIF.
Click on image for an animated GIF

It was 5-0. I was giving serious consideration to throwing in the towel. I started dozing on the couch. If the cat hadn’t been sitting next to me, I’m sure I would have gone horizontal and achieved complete unconsciousness — and thus I would have missed one of the great comebacks in Red Sox history.

There were many heroes (none bigger than David Ortiz, of course) and goats in this one. But how amazing is it that the Sox might not have won if Jose Iglesias hadn’t made that error in the ninth? Yes, Prince Fielder should have snagged it, but Iglesias shouldn’t have thrown it in the first place.

Before the series I had picked Detroit in six, mainly on the strength of their overwhelming starting pitching. By the seventh inning I was starting to wonder about a sweep. Now? Go Sox!

How’s that trade working out? (XX)

The story isn’t online, but here’s a teaser from the new issue of Sports Illustrated:

STILL KICKIN’ IT

He was once the unlikeliest of idiots in a band of heroes that made history. Nearly a decade later, Bronson Arroyo is still standing, still chilling to his own beat, still one of the game’s most dependable innings-eaters.

I believe Wily Mo Peña played in Japan last year. Not sure what he’s doing this year.

A not particularly happy ending for George Scott

For any Red Sox fan who came of age in the late 1960s, the death of George Scott conjured up a lot of memories.

I got hooked in 1968, the year after their Impossible Dream season, and I remember being utterly perplexed at the horrendous slump Scott had fallen into. He finished the season batting .171 with just three home runs. Fortunately for him and the Red Sox, better times were ahead.

There are a lot of worthwhile remembrances for you to peruse, but perhaps the most disheartening is Gordon Edes’, who reports for ESPN.com that Scott ended his days unhappy over his treatment at the hands of the sport he excelled at. Edes writes:

George Scott, according to his biographer [Ron Anderson, the author of “Long Taters”], never got over the bitterness he felt over the fact that Major League Baseball, and the Red Sox in particular, never offered him a job when his playing days were over — as an instructor, a coach or a manager.

Scott was a good player and a fan favorite. Unfortunately, he enjoyed his best years after the Red Sox traded him to Milwaukee following the 1971 season, bringing him back just as career was beginning to fade. The statistics say he hit 33 homers for the Sox in 1977. My memory says he hit 31 of those homers before the All-Star break. Two years later, he’d be out of baseball.

My last George Scott memory was from the late 1990s, when he was managing the Massachusetts Mad Dogs in Lynn. I took my son to Fraser Field one night. Afterwards, we hung around for a while, hoping for an autograph, until an announcement was made that Scott wouldn’t be available. I didn’t blame him. It couldn’t have been an easy life.

Also worth reading:

How’s that trade working out? (XIX)

How could I resist? Nick Cafardo updates us on Bronson Arroyo’s remarkable career.

Thinking about the big Red Sox trade

Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis meet President Obama at the 2009 All-Star Game.

I used to write about the Red Sox quite a bit here, but I’ve found that Facebook and Twitter are generally more than sufficient to express a few opinions and get a discussion going. Still, with the Sox having pulled off perhaps the biggest trade in team history, I’ve got to say something.

So here’s something: I like it. I’m thrilled to see Josh Beckett leaving, of course. I like Carl Crawford, but his body’s been breaking down since he got here. And though there are going to be many days when we’d love to see Adrian Gonzalez in the middle of the Red Sox’ lineup, the fact is that Ben Cherington, Larry Lucchino and company didn’t have the financial flexibility to fix what’s killing them — a lack of starting pitching. Now they do.

Bobby Valentine? I don’t know. I’ve got no problem with Bobby V. He’s not as good a manager as Terry Francona, but he’s been maligned since he got here for reasons that I don’t understand. No one was going to win with this team, especially with all the injuries.

The role of the sports media in the Red Sox drama this year deserves deeper exploration. Thanks to the competition between sports-talk radio stations WEEI and WBZ-FM, the environment seems more toxic than it has in many years.

No doubt there were and are problems with the clubhouse chemistry — Francona, Cherington and Valentine have all said that. And yes, more than four players certainly should have showed up for Johnny Pesky’s funeral. But is all the drama swirling about the team even remotely as important as the injuries and — beginning last September — the complete collapse of the starting pitching? (Insert obligatory reference to beer and chicken here.)

The craziness especially affected fans’ perception of Beckett. He seemed unwilling or unable to help himself in terms of public relations, and it strikes me as credible that his lack of physical conditioning is at least partly responsible for his miserable record this year.

But it wouldn’t surprise me if Beckett’s been concealing a significant injury — one the Dodgers presumably already knew about. Let’s not forget that another non-fan favorite, John Lackey, took the ball every fifth day last year despite having a torn ligament in his elbow. These guys want to compete. If it weren’t for Beckett, the Sox would never have won in 2007, and that should count for a lot.

The big loss was Gonzalez. Evidently the trade wouldn’t have happened without him. The fact that he was making way too much money and seemed a little soft when the game was on the line makes his departure more palatable. But the stories coming out about his supposed whining and lack of leadership should be taken for what they are until someone is willing to speak on the record.

Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

The Celtics’ — and Ryan’s — great run

Ray Allen in 2008

I can’t add to what’s already been said about the Celtics — noble, selfless, you know the rest. What is astonishing is that all the good Celtics teams — Russell’s, Cowens’, Bird’s and the current bunch — have had the same basic team ethic in a league of freelancing showoffs. We’ve been privileged to live in Boston.

Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan rises to the occasion, just as we knew he would. Hard to believe he won’t be around for the next NBA playoffs.

And his stablemate Dan Shaughnessy debases himself by asking whether Ray Allen’s improved play was part of his “salary drive.” You’re excused for wondering if Shank is referring to a different Ray Allen. But no, he’s talking about the one in the green uniform, 36 years old, in need of ankle surgery, out there for long minutes every game because of Avery Bradley’s injury.

Emily Rooney lit into Shaughnessy on “Beat the Press” last Friday. Well-deserved.

My basketball predictions are worth precisely what you’re paying for them. But to listen to the chatter, you’d think they were going to finish last next year, and I don’t buy it. Allen will probably leave. But I’ll bet Kevin Garnett comes back and they’ll make another decent playoff run next year — if not quite as thrilling as this year’s.

Photo via Wikipedia.

Over the top with Beckett and the Red Sox

Josh Beckett

I’ve been listening to a lot of sports radio since it emerged that Josh Beckett golfed despite missing a start with an injury or near-injury or whatever it was, and I just thought I’d throw this out there:

The sports pundits in Boston have gone insane. Some more so than others, of course. Tony Massarotti and Mike Felger of the Sports Hub (98.5 FM) have been completely unhinged, while Michael Holley and Glenn Ordway of WEEI (93.7 FM) have been relatively restrained and coherent.

Overall, though, it’s gotten so ridiculous that hosts were asking callers last night if they would rather have seen Beckett get lit up than pitch the seven innings of shutout baseball that he turned in. And some said yes, damn right, they wish he’d been blown out in an inning or two.

Beckett strikes me — and most of us, I’m sure — as a pretty unlikeable guy. I don’t appreciate the way he answers questions. He was apparently the ringleader of the chicken-and-beer brigade, whose importance has been exaggerated, but which nevertheless was symbolic of a team that wasn’t much of a team. Still, the real story behind the Red Sox’ collapse last September and this spring is staring you in the face: the starting pitching totally melted down. When the starters do well, the Sox win, as we’ve seen this week.

Beckett pitches to the best of his ability (which is still pretty good, if not 2007 good), he doesn’t make excuses and, as he showed on Tuesday, he certainly doesn’t let himself get distracted.

There’s a pattern here. In 2010, Jacoby Ellsbury was injured and misdiagnosed, and the jock punditocracy questioned his heart and toughness. Last year Clay Buchholz fractured vertebrae in his back — think about that for a moment — and got the Ellsbury treatment. For good measure, John Lackey, who, yes, is loathsome in many respects, gave it his all despite needing Tommy John surgery.

Perspective, folks.

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

Hockey, race and the ghosts of Boston’s past

Joel Ward in 2011

No rational person thinks the racist tweets that followed the Bruins’ loss at the hands of Joel Ward on Wednesday represented any more than a tiny, ignorant minority of hockey fans (see this, this and this).

But there’s still something uncomfortable about hockey and race, especially in a city whose racial history is as troubled as ours. (And no, we don’t know how many of those offensive tweets came from Boston.)

The fact is that there has always been a certain subset — subspecies? — of hockey fan who likes the sport in part because nearly all the players are white. I grew up here, and I heard plenty to that effect when I was a teenager, and even in my 20s.

It’s no accident that the Bruins of Bobby Orr (two championships) were far more popular than the Celtics of Bill Russell (11). Or that the Celtics finally became the toast of the town after the face of the franchise turned white, first with Dave Cowens and later with Larry Bird.

Of course, Boston is not the same city today that it was in the 1970s and ’80s. The Celtics of recent years, led by three star African-American players and a black coach, have been as loved as any team in Boston. Even the Red Sox have put their ugly past behind them.

But there’s a context for hockey that doesn’t exist in other, more integrated sports. Among other things, Boston Herald writer Ron Borges couldn’t have made his non-racist but stupid observation about Tim Thomas with any other sport because getting beat by a black player would have been entirely unremarkable.

And the mouth-breathing racist fans who tweeted the “N”-word would have long since come to terms with minority athletes (or stopped watching) if we were talking about any sport other than hockey.

It’s not the NHL’s fault that there are so few black hockey players — it’s a function of geography and culture. Indeed, Major League Baseball itself has very few African-American players today, a demise that has been masked in part by the rise of Latino players of color.

Nor does this have anything to do with the vast majority of hockey fans. I don’t like hockey, but I know plenty of people who do. And they are good, decent people who follow the Celtics, the Patriots and the Red Sox just as avidly as they do the Bruins.

But race is an issue in hockey in ways that it just isn’t in other sports. And when you combine that volatility with Boston’s reputation, what happened this week was perhaps inevitable.

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