The phone hacking scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s British newspapers continues to explode, as the media baron and his son are appearing before a Parliament committee at this very moment. (Follow the proceedings on BBC’s web site here.)
Several U.S. media outlets have reminded the public that an American newspaper once faced its own phone hacking scandal, when The Cincinnati Enquirer was forced to apologize and pay $14 million to Chiquita Brands International in 1998 and renounce its investigative series on Chiquita and then-CEO Carl Lindner. So Cincinnati was on the cutting edge on yet another international trend.
Phil arranged the interview with the aging physician, for whom the Heimlich Maneuver is named. However, producer Pat Walters had to promise to exclude the voice of Phil’s estranged younger brother, Peter, from any subsequent broadcast.
Peter is a scathing critic of their father’s therapeutic claims for the Maneuver and more recent medical experiments.
Phil told Curmudgeon that he feared Walters would ask their father about the troubled family relationships. “Like any son, I’m somewhat protective of him,” Phil said. “He’s 93 . . . We don’t let just anybody come up and interview him.”
Peter told Curmudgeon that he was unaware of this bargain when he cooperated with Walters for the Radiolab story.
I have no trouble with Phil’s setting conditions for arranging the interview. My beef is with Radiolab. It could have refused. Similarly, I’m not going into Heimlich’s therapeutic theories and claims; I’m writing about Radiolab’s handling of the story.
I’m troubled by Radiolab’s willingness to silence an important critic and a source of its information in exchange for access to the elder Heimlich. Further, if Walters failed to tell Peter about his deal with Phil, that’s unethical, especially since Walters told Peter, “I want you to speak for yourself.”
Peter elaborated in a recent email to Curmudgeon: “I was first approached by Radiolab last August when they asked to interview me for broadcast. I wasn't informed that, five months earlier, they'd cut the censorship deal, so they obtained my interview under false pretenses. Further, in the following months, Radiolab producer Pat Walters took up hours of my time, encouraging me to provide him with information and documents. I only learned about the censorship deal a couple weeks ago, when the program disclosed it on their website. If I'd known that Radiolab was this underhanded, I wouldn't have given them a minute of my time -- and I'd encourage other sources to keep their distance.”
Over the years, Peter has dealt with lots of reporters. I asked, "Have you encountered this kind of deal before?"
Peter responded, “I've never heard of a deal like this . . . and how many other Radiolab stories have included deals like this?”
Radiolab’s website includes a link to the 25-minute program, including the interview with Heimlich. Radiolab’s website text says:
“In the 1970s, choking became national news: thousands were choking to death, leading to more accidental deaths than guns. Nobody knew what to do. Until a man named Henry Heimlich came along with a big idea. Since then, thousands and thousands — maybe even millions — have been rescued by the Heimlich maneuver. Yet the story of the man who invented it may not have such a happy ending.
“Producer Pat Walters wouldn't be here without the Heimlich maneuver — it saved his life when he was just 11 years old. And one day he started wondering - who was Heimlich, anyway? And how did he come up with his choking remedy? Pat had always kinda assumed Heimlich died in the mid-1800s. Not so. The man is very much alive: he's 93 years old, and calls Cincinnati, Ohio, home.”
Given the conflict of interest, letting choking survivor Walters do the interview was a mistake. Here are the guts of Radiolab’s online Producer’s Note:
“We made some minor changes to this story that do not alter the substance.
“(W)e removed the audio of Peter Heimlich, Henry Heimlich’s son, from the version now on the site. When we approached Henry’s other son Phil to arrange an interview with his father, one of Phil’s conditions was that we not air audio of Peter. We thought he’d waived that provision in a subsequent conversation but he contends he did not. So we are honoring the original request.”
The version available online begins with a light-hearted exchange among Radiolab personalities in their WNYC studio of New York Public Radio. The conversation between Walters and Henry Heimlich at Heimlich’s home maintains that chummy tone.
Then Walters shifts to controversies over Heimlich’s Maneuver to resuscitate drowning victims and other medical theories. Walters also interviews experts who disagree with Heimlich. When Walters lets Heimlich speak for himself, the physician accuses critics of jealousy and self-interest.
Walters lets the American Red Cross explain why it (quietly) abandoned decades of support for the Maneuver as the first response to choking and returned common backslaps.
“Nonsense,” Heimlich responded.
The Red Cross also abandoned Heimlich’s name for its maneuver. Now, it’s “abdominal thrusts.” Heimlich says abdominal thrusts are not the same as his Maneuver and he’s offended by the whole affair.
Peter — who provided emails from which I worked — continues to press Radiolab on its decision to erase his voice from its broadcast. Its latest response refers him to the program’s original online statements.
• Stunning, avoidable reporting mistakes followed the Boston Marathon bombing. They began when the New York Post said a Saudi man was hospitalized, under guard and might be a bomber. Days later, as the hunt ended, CNN said the captured younger suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was driven away by police. CNN said Tsarnaev was not wounded or his wounds were so slight that no ambulance was required. Wrong. He left in an ambulance; his wounds were so serious that it was unclear when he would speak to interrogators or appear in court.
• Was there a gun battle after a Watertown resident saw the wounded man in his boat and called police? Some media say no gun was found or the 19-year-old didn’t shoot.
• Speaking of mistakes, Businessinsider.com described another blunder when reporters didn’t name sources or verify leaks. “According to a source at CNN, the network was the first to report that a suspect had been identified. Anchor John King sent in a report around 1 p.m. that a source ‘briefed’ on the investigation had told King a positive identification had been made. CNN Washington bureau chief Sam Feist approved that report, according to the source.
“According to the source, who was reviewing internal email logs, Fran Townsend was the first at the network to say that an arrest had been made. ‘As I think everyone knows, we really fucked up. No way around it,’ the source said.
“The source said that the network's email network went quiet for a 15-minute period shortly after the retraction — ‘so people [were] either being more cautious or getting yelled at.’
“Townsend's report came around the same time as other outlets, including the Associated Press and the Boston Globe, also reported an arrest, so it is not clear whether CNN was the first to make the mistake . . . Wednesday's false arrest reports also drew a scathing rebuke from the FBI, which urged the press ‘to exercise caution and attempt to verify information through appropriate official channels before reporting’."
This is shabby journalism. CNN went with a report attributed to someone who had been briefed by someone who knew something. No names. No identifiable links to investigation. Simply assertions. We could have waited until CNN verified or debunked the report but editors fear that hesitation can drive viewers to other, less scrupulous sources. At least Businessinsider.com appeared accurate in its use of its unnamed CNN sources.
• Social media — better called anti-social media in the aftermath of the marathon bombings - spread so much misinformation and falsely accused so many young men that the FBI had to release images of its suspects: the Tsarnaev brothers. It was the only way to protect wrongly accused men from vigilante justice, even though the suspects might be following the chase on their cellphones.
• London’s Daily Mail reported some inadvertent humor among the errors:
Boston’s Fox 4 scrolled across the bottom of the screen that the suspect sought in Watertown was “19-year-old Zooey Deschanel.” Alerted to her new and unwanted celebrity, Uproxx.com said, the 33-year-old star of the Fox sitcom, New Girl, tweeted, “Whoa! Epic closed captioning FAIL!”
Gawker.com said NBC anchor Brian Williams cut to New England Cable News for an update on the Watertown chase and listeners heard an unnamed reporter, “Oh, you’re not listening? Well, I don’t know shit.”
• It’s no surprise that Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post was unmatched for sheer bloodymindedness. Here’s the HuffingtonPost.com summary:
The Post said 12 people had died, when only three had; it said a Saudi man was a “suspect” in “custody” when he wasn't; and it splashed pictures of two young “BAG MEN” on its front page even though it did not know whether they were suspects. They were innocent. One was 17 years old; he told the Associated Press that he was “scared to go outside.” And that doesn’t include Post doctoring the photo of an injured spectator to hide her leg wound.
Rather than apologize, Murdoch blamed others outside the Post.
• Murdoch’s Post wasn’t alone in falsely accusing men of being bombers. The LA Times said “Reddit is apologizing for its role in fueling the social media witch hunts for the Boston bombings suspects. The social news website . . . became a place for amateur sleuths to gather and share their conspiracy theories and other ideas on who may have committed the crimes. The online witch hunts ended up dragging in several innocent people, including Sunil Tripathi, a 22-year-old Brown University student who went missing last month (and has since been found dead).
“After viewing the FBI's photos of the suspects Thursday, Redditors became convinced that Tripathi was one of the bombers, with countless posts gleefully pointing out the physical similarities between Tripathi and Suspect No. 2, who ended up being 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The growing wave of suspicion surrounding Tripathi led his family to release a statement the next day saying they knew ‘unequivocally’ that their son was not involved.
“On Monday, Reddit General Manager Erik Martin posted a lengthy apology on the site, saying the crisis ‘showed the best and worst of Reddit's potential.’ He said the company, as well as several Reddit users and moderators, had apologized privately to Tripathi's family and wanted ‘to take this opportunity to apologize publicly for the pain they have had to endure. We all need to look at what happened and make sure that in the future we do everything we can to help and not hinder crisis situations,’ the post said. ‘Some of the activity on Reddit fueled online witch hunts and dangerous speculation which spiraled into very negative consequences for innocent parties. The Reddit staff and the millions of people on Reddit around the world deeply regret that this happened’."
Reddit said it does not allow personal information on the site in order to protect innocent people from being incorrectly identified and "disrupting or ruining their lives," according to the LA Times. "We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt. We were wrong," Reddit’s Martin continued. "The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive Internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different."
The LA Times added valuable context to what followed the bombings: they “were the first major terrorist attack on American soil in the age of Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. But the watershed moment for social media quickly spiraled out of control as legions of Web sleuths cast suspicion on the innocent, shared bad tips and heightened the sense of panic and paranoia.” The LA Times added that Boston police asked “overeager” Twitter users to limit what they posted because that overly detailed tweets could compromise officers' position and safety.
• Detroit Free Press editors published a detailed online illustration of how to make a pressure cooker bomb, like that reportedly used by the Boston bombers. When their brain fart passed, they took down the instructions and images. Of course, now, anyone can turn to Jimromenesko.com screen shot of the Detroit Free Press illustration . . .
• Newcomers to the Tri-State puzzle over the lifelong identification with high/prep school. When a Cincinnatian was involved in the emergency surgical response to the Boston Marathon bombings, the Enquirer noted he went to St. X. Only later did Our Sole Surviving Daily tell us he was graduated from UC’s medical school before going off to Boston for his surgical residency.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco sheds his clothes in a new print advertisement for an animal rights group.
Never one known to be shy or retiring, Ochocinco appears naked and holding a football in front of his genitalia in the ad for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Referring to the many tattoos visible on his muscular frame, the ad's tagline is, “Ink, Not Mink.”
Journalism-related Web sites have been abuzz this week with rumors that Editor Tom Callinan is about to leave his job at The Enquirer. Callinan is keeping mum for now, but one of his rumored replacements says he will remain in California and not return to Cincinnati.
The corporate parent of The Enquirer is offering a voluntary “early retirement” buyout proposal to rid the company of some older and more highly paid employees.
Robert J. Dickey, president of The Gannett Co.'s U.S. newspaper division, announced the buyout offer Thursday in a memorandum to employees.
Just before we turned the corner from 12th onto Main, gunshots popped off behind us. We turned around and saw some dude running south on Sycamore. We bolted onto Main and jumped into a storefront doorway until things calmed down, called the police and then continued on our way. I followed up and found out that the man we saw running away neither died nor killed anyone.
It was a scene that has grown less common in recent years in the area, as the push of development has moved much of the drug dealing and related violence outward into other neighborhoods. In January WCPO reported that violent crime in OTR was down 74 percent since 2004, in part due to development and evolving policing tactics.
Such facts didn't deter The Enquirer from freaking the hell out yesterday when one of its reporters witnessed a shooting in front of a bunch of popular OTR restaurants. Reporter Emilie Eaton was on the same block when 30-year-old Gregory Douglas was shot around 9 a.m. near Vine and Mercer streets, fled a short distance then collapsed and died. Police today issued a warrant for the arrest of Darnell Higgins for the murder.
It's been a sad day for a lot of people: families and friends of the deceased and the accused; those who witnessed such violence up close.
It’s also a sad day to consider the
state of local media, considering the response we've seen so far to The Enquirer's collection of coverage. It started with the reporter's first-person account of witnessing the shooting. Then came a news story questioning the neighborhood's safety, for some reason quoting the Hamilton County Republican chairman and a lone neighborhood resident saying he didn't feel safe these days. Soon afterward, a more formed version of the story was updated online — this time the headline tried to cleverly play on the word "dead" (“Gunfire in OTR brings
morning to a dead stop”). The headline was later changed, “After fatal shooting, no easy answer in OTR," though the insensitive quip lives on in the story's URL.
decision to frame Douglas’ death as a question of whether or not OTR is
safe for those of us unaccustomed to witnessing violence is generating the type of
online debate (/clicks) the "newsroom of the future" was meant to induce. It has also been heavily criticized.
Here’s former Cincinnati mayor Charlie Luken on Facebook:
Here’s Derek Bauman, an OTR and mass transit advocate/suburban police officer, who wondered on Twitter why the first source in an early version of the “Is OTR safe yet” story quoted the county GOP chair before anyone else. Alex Triantafilou’s take? “There is more work to be done to make our city as safe as the suburbs."
Eaton's first-person story was published just hours after the shooting occurred. "A stray bullet could have easily missed the victim and hit me," she wrote. "The gunman could have come around the corner for me. I'm lucky to be writing this story right now."
The story elicited strong response from readers, but perhaps not the kind the Enquirer was picturing. About 20 wrote comments questioning the appropriateness of the piece, many along the lines of this:
As writers molded dispatches from the
scene into The Enquirer’s larger
collection of reporting on the incident, debate continued on social
media. Enquirer writer John Faherty took to the comment section of Eaton's article to defend her.
Those of us in the media don’t enjoy criticizing each others' work, and we realize most people in the industry are dedicated and passionate. We respect colleagues at other media companies, especially when their dedication to the craft is evident.
Eaton clearly had a shitty morning. Her decision to immediately get back to doing her job is admirable.
Unfortunately, the collection of work to which she contributed was misguided, made worse by the classlessness with which Enquirer editors showed along the way. Publishing right-wing digs at inner-city neighborhoods has been a longstanding tradition at The Enquirer. Using a play on the word "dead" in a news story about a murder is the type of move that would get a college newspaper in trouble. It shouldn't be OK at any self-respecting daily.
There's no way to tell which “content coach” might have shaped yesterday’s coverage. Any number of web editors could have written such an offensive headline — the newsroom of the future isn't set up to catch these things. Newsroom morale has been known to be low at Gannett papers across the country, and many of us actually feel bad for the many talented people struggling to produce quality work under such restrictive guidelines.
Ultimately, reporting that might have culminated in an articulation of how opposite worlds intertwine in front of our eyes every day instead became a question of whether it's smart to eat and shop near poor people.
Later versions of the story noted that the lunch rush on Vine Street continued as usual just hours later, suggesting that maybe the question of whether or not Vine Street is safe had already been answered.
"I'm not worried about it," said Mike Georgitan, a general manager at Pontiac BBQ on Vine Street. "It might affect lunch today – maybe," he shrugged. "But then it will pick back up."A person is dead, and the cycle of poverty, crime, drugs and violence that gripped Over-the-Rhine long before a Japanese gastropub opened at 15th and Vine is still occurring all over this city. The Enquirer would be wise to demonstrate an understanding of these forces rather than following the path of least resistance to Internet debate.
(UPDATE AT BOTTOM)
Managers at The Cincinnati Enquirer may be encouraging its staff to use Internet social networking sites to lure more readers, but at least one editor at a Gannett sister newspaper has had enough of Twitter and Facebook.
Anyone who looked at the front page of today's Cincinnati Enquirer saw a prominent advertisement along the bottom featuring an image of a treasure chest and announcing, “Roadshow is in town all week in Cincinnati!”
To the uninitiated, it might appear as if the popular TV show Antiques Roadshow is taping an episode in the Queen City. The program uses a similar image and logo, after all. And that’s exactly why WGBH-TV in Boston filed a federal lawsuit Feb. 23 in Illinois against the company that placed the ad, Treasure Hunters Roadshow.
Treasure Hunters used the ad to publicize its event this week at the Duke Energy Convention Center. Unlike Antiques Roadshow, Treasure Hunters doesn’t appraise items and tries to buy some antiques that people bring in for the lowest price possible.
WGBH, which produces the show seen on PBS outlets across the nation, including WCET-TV (Channel 48), alleges the company is guilty of trademark infringement through its name and marketing tactics. It has sued the Illinois-based firm and its owner, Jeffrey Parsons, seeking an injunction to prevent use of the name and image.
As first noted by Bill Sloat on his Daily Bellwether blog, the flap over “fair use” issues has received extensive media coverage in Illinois.
Ironically, The Enquirer ran the ad just days after its editor, Tom Callinan, wrote a column criticizing unnamed blogs, Web sites and radio stations of unfairly and illegally using the newspaper’s content.
“(O)thers are profiting from our work,” Callinan wrote. “We're no longer willing to idly watch our good efforts stolen.”
As a result, The Enquirer is using a software program called Attributor to track users of its contents, gauge if the use is improper and issue warnings to alleged violators.
“In an attempt to track down such content parasites, The Enquirer and Cincinnati.Com now employ technology that scours the media landscape for illegal use of our content,” Callinan wrote. “In recent weeks, we have sent warnings to several blogs, Web sites and radio stations.
“We're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.”
Callinan didn’t, however, attribute that last line to Network, the Oscar-winning 1976 film about a banal media outlet run amok in pursuit of profits and ratings. The line is uttered by unhinged TV talk show host Howard Beale, famously played by Peter Finch.
Several local bloggers were upset by Callinan’s column, calling it heavy-handed and reminding them of Big Brother with its weird “we’re watching you” vibe. They’re wondering who – exactly – he’s alleging has made improper use of the newspaper’s content. Several blogs often post items commenting on news reported by The Enquirer or criticizing its coverage, but they generally attribute the newspaper and help drive Internet traffic to its site.
Sloat e-mailed Callinan asking for more details, but the editor remained vague.
“(T)he recent ones have been small blogs and websites who may simply not know better. I don't want to out them. We handle it with automated warnings (via a program called Attributor) and it usually goes away without escalation,” Callinan responded. “My threshold for getting into a public outing of the issue would be pretty high — repeated incidents, warnings and letters from our lawyers. Just hasn't risen to that level.”
Of course, if the problem hasn’t risen to that level, why write such a high-profile and accusatory column about it?
So far, The Enquirer hasn’t reported on the lawsuit against its advertiser. Maybe the dispute “just hasn’t risen to that level” either.