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

Tag: media criticism Page 3 of 17

From NPR, clarity on the Bush tax cuts

Kudos to NPR for airing the first clear, understandable story I’ve come across in the mainstream media on why there’s actually a substantive argument for retaining the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.

No doubt you have heard Republicans say that raising taxes on incomes above $200,000 a year ($250,000 for couples) would hurt small businesses, along with the Democratic retort that it would affect barely 2 percent of those businesses. Well, here’s the explanation in a nutshell:

  • The vast majority of small businesses might better be termed micro-businesses. NPR’s examples: “a hot dog vendor, a housecleaner, a guy selling T-shirts on eBay.” Not only do they not make $200,000 a year, but they don’t hire anyone.
  • Small businesses that are substantial enough to hire more than a handful of people are relatively few in number, and make up a large share of the 2 percent cited by Democrats.
  • Many if not most of those small businesses treat their business income as personal income for tax purposes. So, yes, raising taxes on incomes above the $200,000 threshold could very well harm their ability to invest and hire new employees.

Even so, the NPR story notes there’s a strong case to be made that small businesses would benefit far more from targeted measures than from retaining the Bush tax cut.

Bottom line: I learned something important I didn’t know about a much-debated public-policy issue. Isn’t that what journalism is for?

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Hyperlocal versus regional news in New Haven

Education reform and how it’s playing out in city schools. A long-awaited project to build sidewalks in a high-traffic area, delayed  because of the cost. The latest on a controversial plan to sell off 25 years’ worth of parking-meter revenue for a quick infusion of $50 million.

These are a few of the stories posted in late August by the New Haven Independent, a non-profit, online-only news organization.

As part of my research, I recently decided to take a look at every story that appeared in the Independent between Sunday, Aug. 22, and Saturday, Aug. 28, and compare them to what appeared in the New Haven Register.

Click here for a detailed breakdown of New Haven
coverage in the Independent and the Register

Not that the Independent and the Register should necessarily be thought of as competitors. The Register, a for-profit paper owned by the Journal Register Co., based in Yardley, Penn., covers not just New Haven but the surrounding area as well. On any given day, the Register publishes more stories from the suburbs than from the city. Much of the Independent’s intensely local neighborhood coverage is of the sort that the Register would not likely publish.

The Register is also a much larger enterprise, even online: its website received more than 158,000 unique visitors in July, according to, whereas the Independent, with its city-focused readership, attracted somewhat less than 49,000. (Such numbers are inherently suspect. But they provide a decent basis for comparison, if not for overall readership.) And, of course, the Register’s website isn’t its primary distribution platform. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, paid circulation of the Register’s print edition is about 71,000 on weekdays and 81,000 on Sundays.

My goal was to list every story that appeared in the Independent for a week, and to compare them to the New Haven-only stories that appeared in the Register. Compiling a list of stories from the Independent was not difficult. Finding all the New Haven stories in the Register was somewhat more of a challenge, since I did not have access to the print edition.

Kerry Healey will not pre-empt the Red Sox

The city’s daily papers strain for significance in reporting on the debut of two shows on NESN, home of the Red Sox and the Bruins. The programs are “Shining City,” to be hosted by former lieutenant governor Kerry Healey, and “After the Game,” co-produced by Linda Pizzuti Henry.

First up is Jessica Heslam of the Boston Herald, who reported on the new programs (sub. req.) on Aug. 13. Although Heslam’s account of Healey’s innovation-and-technology show and Henry’s sports-celebrity program was pretty straightforward, she also wrote:

“Shining City” rolls out as NESN, the flagship station for the Boston Red Sox, beefs up its lifestyle programming. The network has lost 36 percent of its viewers from last year as the injury-plagued Sox struggled this season.

Today the Globe’s Johnny Diaz goes one better than Heslam by not simply laying out the fact that Red Sox ratings are slipping, but also tying it all together with a neat bow. He writes:

The shows, called “After The Game” and “Shining City,” are an attempt by the station to reach new viewers who aren’t necessarily sports fans but who may watch entertainment and science-related shows, as the network’s bread-and-butter programming — baseball games — is declining.

I believe this is called the “if-then fallacy.”

Here is the fundamental problem: It’s not as though Healey and Henry are going to pre-empt Red Sox games, or even the pre-game and post-game shows. Healey’s program will cablecast on Fridays at 4:30 p.m., followed by something called “Pocket Money” at 5 and then “After the Game” at 5:30. There will be plenty of repetitions during the week as well, but NESN will continue to offer a one-hour pre-game show, and Tom Caron will keep right on yelling at you as soon as the game is over.

It’s not that Red Sox ratings aren’t down. They are. But that is irrelevant to the debut of two new programs in time slots that don’t crowd any Sox-related programming. The Sox are still one of the biggest televisions draws in New England, as Diaz himself notes: “Five Red Sox games last week ranked among the top 10 most-watched shows in Boston.”

So why try to tie the new shows to declining baseball ratings? Because the urge to come up with an interesting story line — a narrative — is irresistible. Even when there is none.

The pain over Spain is easy to explain

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that complaints about Michelle Obama’s Spanish vacation are just the latest manifestation of a by-now-old ritual, in which the mainstream media allow themselves to be bullied by right-winger activists into promoting a non-story.

For Amorello, a sad and ugly ending

Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald give the front-page treatment today to former Big Dig chief Matt Amorello. Each paper also features those horrendous mug shots of Amorello, barely conscious, being held by a police officer so that his picture could be taken.

There’s a case to be made that the photos shouldn’t have been published, but I’m not going to make it here. I suspect that any impulse to hold back disappeared when Amorello himself disappeared. He later turned up at UMass Medical Center.

The two dailies offer some details (here and here) on Amorello’s slide following his forced resignation in 2006, after a woman was killed when a concrete slab fell from a Big Dig tunnel onto her car. You will find nothing surprising in either story.

The Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, whose coverage area includes Haverhill, where Amorello was arrested, sticks to what’s in the police report, as well as the observations of a few witnesses. “I’m just glad nobody got hurt,” Leonor Santos tells the paper. “We’re angry about him being drunk and driving. But thank God he’s OK. I’d rather he hit my car than the pole.”

Amorello easily could have killed someone. WBZ television and radio analyst Jon Keller writes that Amorello deserves compassion, but not forgiveness. I agree.

Alexandra Jarrin’s three sons

The New York Times today fronts a heartbreaking story about a “99er” — a formerly successful businesswoman named Alexandra Jarrin who is on the verge of living in her car because her unemployment benefits have run out.

But there’s an undeveloped aside that the reporter, Michael Luo, and his editors shouldn’t have let slip. Near the end, Luo writes: “She says none of her three adult sons are in a position to help her.”

Let’s assume that if we knew why, we’d understand. By letting this loose thread dangle, though, the Times undermines the premise of the entire piece — that Jarrin is suffering solely because of Congress’ failure to extend unemployment benefits.

If the Times wants to pull at our heartstrings, then it ought to tell us why none of Jarrin’s three sons will provide their mother with a place to live.

Update: Sharp-eyed reader Isaac Benjamin notes that Luo has addressed the matter in the comments. I read the story in Times Reader, which does not include comments. And I hear that the Times still publishes a print edition. I hope the paper runs a clarification tomorrow.

The Times and the attorney general

In my latest for the Guardian, I argue that the New York Times was on to a legitimate story about Connecticut Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal’s idiotic distortions* about his military service — but that it so botched the job that the paper can no longer be considered a reliable guide on what Blumenthal has and hasn’t claimed about himself.

How’s it going for Blumenthal? Swimmingly.

That's reportedly Blumenthal who's standing in the rear.

Yesterday I thought New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt had gotten his paper’s Richard Blumenthal reporting just about right.

Hoyt concluded that the paper had indeed exposed Connecticut’s attorney general, a Democratic Senate candidate, as being untruthful about his non-service in Vietnam. But Hoyt added that the Times should have revealed Blumenthal had also described his military service accurately earlier in the smoking video.

Now I’m just about ready to throw the Times’ reporting on Blumenthal into the swimming pool. Because it turns out that the one, weird little detail that helped bolster the larger point — that Blumenthal had lied about being on the Harvard swim team, of all things — was wrong.

Media Nation commenter Duke Briscoe recommended a Daily Howler report that, in turn, led me back to a Hartford Courant item about a series of photos posted on Facebook showing that Blumenthal had indeed been a team member. So it seems to me that we now have three major problems with the Times report:

  • The Times failed to report that Blumenthal accurately described his Marine Corps service just several minutes before he then wrongly said he had served in Vietnam.
  • One of the Times’ principal sources, Jean Risley, who chairs the Connecticut Vietnam Veterans Memorial, says she was misquoted.
  • The confirming detail about Blumenthal’s having lied about being on the Harvard swim team turns out not to be the case at all.

Personally, I still think Blumenthal wrongly gave the impression in that recorded speech that he had actually served in Vietnam. But the Times apparently botched this story so thoroughly it now seems likely that Blumenthal will benefit from an anti-media backlash. And unless there are more, unambiguous examples, then he probably should benefit.

I think Hoyt ought to wait for the dust to settle, then weigh in again.

New York Times blunders on Blumenthal

Richard Blumenthal

It’s now clear that the New York Times was sloppy in its report on Connecticut Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal. Maybe the fact that he told the truth about his Vietnam-era military service doesn’t negate his saying something totally misleading a few minutes later. But the Times should have gotten out the whole story at once. You can consider me one Times reader who feels manipulated this morning.

To review: On Monday night, the Times posted a story reporting that Blumenthal had, on several occasions, falsely claimed to have served in Vietnam when he was in the Marine Corps. “We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” he said at a speech in 2008. Weirdly, the Times also reported that he’d apparently misled people about having been captain of the Harvard swim team. In fact, he was never a member.

Yesterday, in a follow-up, the Times reported that former congressman Chris Shays had grown increasingly uneasy over the years as he watched Blumenthal transform himself from a humble Vietnam-era veteran into someone who had actually served in the war. “He just kept adding to the story, the more he told it,” Shays was quoted as saying.

But then, later yesterday, the tide turned. The Associated Press reported that Blumenthal truthfully described his military service in the same speech in which he said “I served in Vietnam.” In the opening moments of the speech, he correctly described himself as “as someone who served in the military during the Vietnam era.”

How important is this latest development? I don’t know. We already knew that Blumenthal had often told the truth about his service, but that he had also, on occasion, allowed his audiences to believe he’d been in Vietnam. But to do both in the same speech? That suggests that maybe, as he said at a defiant news conference on Tuesday, it really was just “a few misplaced words.”

I don’t want to let Blumenthal off the hook. I think anyone who watches the full video clip would come away thinking he had served in Vietnam. But Times journalists should have moved heaven and earth to make sure they had investigated this thoroughly, especially since they were relying on a dime-drop from the campaign of Republican candidate Linda McMahon.

Democrats have apparently rallied around Blumenthal, the state attorney general, in advance of this weekend’s state convention. Blumenthal’s poll numbers have plummeted, but they may bounce back if he can create the perception that he has been wronged by the media. To that end, this story by NPR on the media’s role in perpetuating half-true stories about Blumenthal may help him.

In a statement to Politico, New York Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty said:

The New York Times in its reporting uncovered Mr. Blumenthal’s long and well established pattern of misleading his constituents about his Vietnam War service, which he acknowledged in an interview with The Times. Mr. Blumenthal needs to be candid with his constituents about whether he went to Vietnam or not, since his official military records clearly indicate he did not.

Trouble is, when you find yourself defending your reporting to other news organizations, that’s usually a pretty good indication that something went wrong. The Times had a perfectly good — and, I would argue, devastating — story about Blumenthal’s misleading statements regarding his military service.

By letting others reveal the existence of potentially exculpatory material, the paper now finds itself playing defense.

Update: The Stamford Advocate reports that Blumenthal, at the city’s Veterans Day parade in 2008, said, “I wore the uniform in Vietnam and many came back & to all kinds of disrespect. Whatever we think of war, we owe the men and women of the armed forces our unconditional support” (via Greg Sargent). More interesting quotes from Shays, too. I suspect we’re going to find that the Times took a perfectly legitimate story and blew it by not nailing everything down ahead of time.

Photo by Sage Ross via Wikimedia Commons.

Why were teenage sexual-assault victims named?

Not long after I wrote about the Boston Globe and Cape Cod Times stories regarding congressional candidate Jeff Perry’s ties to former Wareham police officer Scott Flanagan, who illegally conducted strip searches of two teenage girls in 1992, Julie Manganis posted a comment in which she asked an important question: Why did the Times name the two victims, who were 16 and 14 at the time they were assaulted?

“Does the Times now have a policy of identifying victims of sexual crimes, even when the girls are minors?” asked Manganis.

I put the question to the reporter, George Brennan, who in turn referred it to his editor, Paul Pronovost. Here is Pronovost’s answer:

While the Cape Cod Times typically does not name the victims of crimes, we make exceptions when the news warrants. Here’s a link to a recent ombudsman column on the subject, though not related to the Perry story.

You should be aware the girls’ names have been in the public domain for years; you will find published accounts in the Enterprise papers and the Standard Times in New Bedford long before Saturday’s CCT story.

Of course, we don’t justify our decision on the basis of what others do. For the CCT, the compelling factor was the rights of the accused to face his/her accuser. We concluded that publishing the full facts — including the names of those who made the allegations regarding the Wareham police — outweighed privacy issues in detailing the civil action. We gave a full airing of the case and its chronology, including speaking with the father of one of the girls. I believe the story stands as a fair record of what happened and our readers can decide what it means to them in the context of the congressional race.

I did some checking, and found that the Standard Times did indeed name both victims on at least one occasion — on Nov. 29, 1995, when the older of the victims won a civil suit against the Wareham Police Department. The Enterprise newspapers, based on the Cape, recently named the 16-year-old. It’s clear from the context that those papers named one or both victims in 2002 as well.

This strikes me as remarkable. It is highly unusual for news organizations to identify sexual-assault victims, let alone victims who were also minors. Pronovost is right that the names have been out there for many years. I’d be interested in knowing how that happened.

Finally, you may be interested in this long take on the case by Falmouth lawyer Richard Latimer, who blogs for Cape Cod Today. Latimer, as you will see, is no fan of Perry, a Republican state representative who hopes to succeed retiring congressman Bill Delahunt. But Latimer seems to have read every document, and he quotes from them at length.

Perry was a Wareham police sergeant in 1992, when Flanagan assaulted the two girls. Perry has never been charged or found civilly liable in connection with the cases, and has denied that his resignation from the department stemmed from his failure to bring Flanagan to heel.

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