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

Tag: media criticism Page 2 of 17

Did the Times overstate Japan’s nuke crisis?

It was a week ago today that the New York Times ran this lede:

Japan faced the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident Tuesday morning, as an explosion at the most crippled of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station damaged its crucial steel containment structure, emergency workers were withdrawn from the plant, and much larger emissions of radioactive materials appeared imminent, according to official statements and industry executives informed about the developments.

The headline, which led that night: “Japan Faces Potential Nuclear Disaster as Radiation Levels Rise.”

We can all be grateful that the worst hasn’t happened. It appears that the nuclear situation in Japan, despite continued setbacks, may slowly be coming under control. So my question this morning is whether the Times grossly overstated what was happening on that scary night.

A news organization should not lightly assert “the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear accident.”

The New York Times and the T-word

Peter King

The New York Times has a great story today on U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., who is presiding over repugnant hearings into the loyalty of Muslim-Americans. Reporter Scott Shane reminds us that King made his reputation as a staunch supporter of the Irish Republican Army, which for years fought for independence from Britain in attacks that included the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians.

Yet I was struck by Shane’s lede, which frankly describes the IRA as “a terror group.” I don’t have any quarrel with that. But I was surprised, given the Times’ well-known squeamishness over using the T-word to describe Islamist organizations such as Hamas, which has engaged in suicide bombings against civilian targets in its war against Israel.

As the Times’ then-public editor, Clark Hoyt, wrote in 2008, “To the consternation of many, The Times does not call Hamas a terrorist organization, though it sponsors acts of terror against Israel.” It’s a policy that has put the Times in an awkward position previously, as in 2010, when the paper reported on criticism of Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero, for failing to label Hamas a terrorist group.

The United States, Canada, Israel, Japan and the European Union have all classified Hamas as a terrorist organization.

King’s response to being called out as a hypocrite is truly rancid, as he reveals that he couldn’t care less about the lives of British civilians who were killed in IRA attacks. “I understand why people who are misinformed might see a parallel,” he tells the Times. “The fact is, the IRA never attacked the United States. And my loyalty is to the United States.”

And in the 1980s, King had this to say: “If civilians are killed in an attack on a military installation, it is certainly regrettable, but I will not morally blame the IRA for it.”

Shane attempts to make comparisons between the IRA and Al Qaeda, and concludes — correctly — that Al Qaeda is considerably worse. But the parallels between the IRA and Hamas seem pretty obvious.

The IRA engaged in terrorist attacks, but gradually moved toward a renunciation of such attacks as it uneasily groped its way toward a peace settlement with Britain and participation in government.

Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, may or may not be capable of moving toward a peace settlement with Israel. But certainly it was unclear at a similar stage as to whether the IRA was capable of making such a transition.

It’s pretty simple. Either the IRA and Hamas are/were terrorist organizations, or neither is. I hope public editor Arthur Brisbane will explain why it’s all right for the Times to call the IRA a “terror group” when it refuses to do the same with respect to Hamas.

Times lets Palin aide lie about gunsight map

The New York Times today fails to call a Sarah Palin spokeswoman on what has all the appearances of a flat-out lie.

In a story on the political fallout of the weekend carnage in Tucson that claimed the lives of six people and left U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords gravely injured, Times reporters Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg tell us that Palin adviser Rebecca Mansour denied that those were gunsights on Palin’s infamous map identifying House Democrats she had targeted for defeat. Zeleny and Rutenberg write of Mansour’s appearance on a conservative radio talk show:

Ms. Mansour said that the cross hairs, in fact, were not meant to be an allusion to guns, and agreed with her interviewer’s reference to them as “surveyors symbols.” Aides to Ms. Palin did not respond to interview requests on Sunday.

Yet we already knew otherwise on Sunday, as a Talking Points Memo reader dug up a tweet purportedly written by Palin herself referring to the map symbols in explicitly gun-oriented terms. Palin or her designated tweeter wrote:

Remember months ago “bullseye” icon used 2 target the 20 Obamacare-lovin’ incumbent seats? We won 18 of 20 (90% success rate;T’aint bad)

And let’s not forget that those symbols turned red whenever one of the targeted Democrats went down — just like surveyors symbols, eh?

Few people are blaming Palin for the actions of Jared Lee Loughner, who has been charged with the Saturday shootings. Loughner appears to have been motivated by mental illness rather than politics. Still, Palin’s map was mind-blowingly irresponsible, as Giffords herself said some months ago. This should mark the end of Palin’s public career as anything other than a sideshow freak, much as Ann Coulter all but disappeared after she mocked 9/11 widows. Are the media really going to let Palin and her minions get away with this?

Traditional journalism is incredibly uncomfortable when given proof that someone is flat-out lying. But that’s no excuse for the Times’ ignoring the fact that there was already proof Mansour was lying — or, at best, was incredibly uninformed about her boss’ intentions.

Herald exclusive: Democrat says Republican could lose

In today’s episode of “Let’s Play Editor,” you receive an entirely predictable op-ed from a prominent Democratic political consultant who writes that Republican Sen. Scott Brown could lose in 2012. What do you do?

  1. Write a polite rejection letter to the consultant and hope it won’t affect his willingness to return your calls.
  2. Curry favor with the consultant by publishing his piece on the op-ed page, secure in the knowledge that no one will read it.
  3. Blast the piece all over the front page, label it an “exclusive” and slap a headline on it pronouncing Brown to be “THE NEXT COAKLEY.”

If you’re Herald editor Joe Sciacca, then the answer is #3. Although Rubin’s affiliation is disclosed, today’s front page will make me pause the next time I criticize the tabloid for allowing Republican operative Howie Carr to rip Democrats.

Globe publishes spiked Wasserman cartoon

Though it doesn’t seem to have made its way onto yet, Boston Globe cartoonist Dan Wasserman’s poke at Bank of America and the Museum of Fine Arts — spiked last Sunday — is in today’s Globe, as he said it would be. It never should have been held in the first place, but there you have it.

What was missing from today’s Boston Globe

Dan Wasserman (at podium) speaks at JFK Library

How many trees had to die so that the Boston Globe could stop cartoonist Dan Wasserman from raining on the Museum of Fine Arts’ parade?

Earlier this weekend, Media Nation heard that the Globe had killed a cartoon by Wasserman that was scheduled to run on today’s editorial page. Sure enough, you will find a guest op-ed headlined “The tech-politics divide” where Wasserman’s cartoon ought to be.

Then, this morning, I received a PDF of the page — already printed — from an anonymous source. The cartoon is vintage Wasserman, poking vicious good fun at the MFA and at Bank of America. I asked Wasserman to tell me what happened, and here is the full text of his e-mailed response:

The cartoon was held but is scheduled to run next Sunday. The publisher [Christopher Mayer] was concerned that the MFA, on the day it was celebrating the opening of its new wing, was being nicked in a cartoon that was aimed at Bank of America. I was out of the office on Friday, and because of early weekend deadlines, the cartoon was coming off the presses before he could reach me to talk it through. I’m disappointed it was held. It’s a strong, timely cartoon.

Because Wasserman says the cartoon will run next Sunday, I’ve decided to hold off from posting the PDF.

The PDF is clearly a scan of a printed page. How many Ideas sections were printed and discarded after management decided to spike the cartoon? I understand it may have been quite a few, but I don’t have a confirmed number.

I also asked the Globe’s spokesman, vice president Robert Powers, for comment. He sent along the following statement a few minutes ago:

We do not comment on editorial decisions. Unfortunately, due to early printing deadlines, the section had already started to print.  No one outside of the news and editorial process for The Boston Globe is ever consulted about news and editorial decisions.

No question the Globe has invested a lot in its coverage of the MFA’s $500 million expansion. The paper published a 56-page color glossy magazine commemorating the event (we got two, since it was also included in the New York Times), featuring, among other things, a full-page ad from — yes — Bank of America. There’s an interactive special at as well.

All good stuff. But there was nothing out of bounds or offensive in Wasserman’s cartoon. It should have run.

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

Howie Carr writes checks, too

I’m late with this, but I want to point out that Adam Gaffin of Universal Hub recently reported that Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr donated $100 to Royall Switzler, an unsuccessful Republican candidate for state representative in his hometown of Wellesley.

Back in the day, Switzler was a legislative firebrand. But his political career came to a halt after he was caught exaggerating his military record while he was running for governor in 1986.

Carr, of course, is already hopelessly compromised because of his various speaking appearances on behalf of Republicans. Just click here.

Over at the liberal blog Blue Mass. Group, people are talking about Carr’s latest line-crossing in light of Keith Olbermann’s suspension and subsequent apology.

Not to repeat what I’ve said previously, but Carr’s activism on behalf of the Republican Party is not at all unusual for a radio talk-show host, which is why I stress his Herald connection. It is very unusual for a news columnist — especially one who, like Carr, still calls Democratic politicians for comment and snickers when they decline to call him back.

Olbermann dives into a steaming vat of hot water

Keith Olbermann

MSNBC talk-show host Keith Olbermann has been caught stepping way over the line. According to Politico’s Simmi Aujla, Olbermann made campaign contributions to three Democratic candidates in the just-concluded campaign. The network has suspended him, the New York Times reports.

Olbermann has acknowledged making the donations — the legal maximum of $2,400 apiece — to Jack Conway, who lost to Kentucky Republican Rand Paul in a U.S. Senate race, and to two Arizona members of Congress, one of whom was recently a guest on Olbermann’s show, “Countdown.”

It gets worse. Olbermann’s donations were in direct violation of NBC News’ ethics policy. Like many news organizations, Aujla writes, NBC executives ban their employees from making such donations because they consider it “a breach of journalistic independence to contribute to the candidates they cover.”

There are no longer any such scruples at radio talk shows, whose largely conservative hosts have morphed into out-and-out political activists. But there is a long tradition of opinion journalists’ refraining from political activity even though they are paid to express their political views. As Aujla notes, it’s a matter of independence, not objectivity.

Even if NBC made an exception for talk-show hosts like Olbermann (to be clear: it shouldn’t), he has often co-anchored MSNBC’s election-night coverage — as he did this past Tuesday. That is clearly a journalistic role, and the fact that someone who has given money to political candidates would fill such a role is pretty outrageous. That no one apparently knew about it only makes it worse.

It will be interesting to see how NBC handles this beyond the just-announced suspension. MSNBC finally stumbled upon an identity in recent years as the liberal alternative to Fox News, and it’s Olbermann who led the way. He is the network’s signature personality — a huge asset for MSNBC. He is not expendable talent like Rick Sanchez or Juan Williams.

Olbermann’s gotten some favorable attention for announcing that he is ending his “Worst Person in the World” segment. Maybe he ought to do one more — and this time award it to himself.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Conflicting reports on a possible Brown foe

Setti Warren

Is Newton Mayor Setti Warren saying different things to different reporters about his future political aspirations? Or does it come down to a matter of emphasis and interpretation? That’s what folks at the Newton Tab want to know.

After Matt Murphy of the State House News Service reported that some Democrats were hoping Warren would challenge Republican Senator Scott Brown in 2012, Warren told Tab editor Gail Spector there was nothing to it.

But Warren didn’t come off as quite so emphatic in a Boston Globe story today by Alan Wirzbicki, who wrote, “Warren said he was focused on his job, but did not rule out a run and attacked Brown’s record.”

Lacking the full transcript of either interview, it’s hard to know what’s going on. Warren’s quote in the Tab — “My intent is to finish my term” — isn’t exactly a denial. And the Globe quotes Warren indirectly, so we don’t know what he actually said.

My guess is that both stories are right. And that Warren will soon be issuing a clarification.

More: The Tab’s Spector follows up with Warren. And he won’t be pinned down.

Photo via the City of Newton’s website.

Too much automation?

Check out this wildly inappropriate juxtaposition in today’s GlobeReader. Here’s the same story, with a rather different photo, from

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