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.
National Public Radio announced Wednesday that they were cutting their workforce by 7 percent. This in an effort to made their budget, which was projected in July to create a $2 million deficit but, after the steep downturn in the economy, was projected to reach $23 million.
Day to Day and News & Notes will both be cancelled, and other jobs will be eliminated throughout the organization.
2010 already is beginning to look a lot like 2009 at The Cincinnati Enquirer.
In a memo issued Dec. 1, an executive with The Gannett Co., The Enquirer’s Virginia-based owner, wrote that newspaper employees must take another five-day, unpaid furlough within the first quarter of the year. Bob Dickey, Gannett’s U.S. community publishing president, blamed the continuing weak economy.
If you like pissing off overly authoritarian government initiatives, then you need to bookmark and use the following Web address.
Enquirer reporters and editors should be satisfied with their initial tabloid effort. Today’s inaugural edition — smaller and printed in Columbus — is a curious hybrid. It arrived on time. It feels and looks like a tabloid, but it reads like a familiar Enquirer rather than something exciting and new.
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.
• HuffingtonPost.com quickly repeated this potential calumny: “Investigators have a suspect — a Saudi Arabian national — in the horrific Boston Marathon bombings, The (New York) Post has learned. Law enforcement sources said the 20-year-old suspect was under guard at an undisclosed Boston hospital.”
About the same time, Massachusetts and Boston officials were telling journalists they had no suspects.
I recall how authorities initially sought someone who looked like an Arab after the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed in 1995. How do I know? It was all over the news media. As the current FBI website puts it, “Coming on the heels of the (first) World Trade Center bombing in New York two years earlier, the media and many Americans immediately assumed that the attack was the handiwork of Middle Eastern terrorists.”
Two white non-Arab Americans were convicted of the bombing. The only “Arab” link was murderer Timothy McVeigh’s military service in the first Iraq invasion, Desert Storm, where he won a Bronze Star. Meanwhile, conspiracy theorists continued to weave elaborate links between the Oklahoma City bombers and Arabs.
• Everyone with a microphone seems to be telling us the investigation of the Boston bombings will be complex and unhurried. Many recall how long it took to abandon suspicion of security guard Richard Jewell as the Atlanta Olympics bomber. It took two years to identify Eric Rudolph as the bomber and another five to arrest him. False leads will abound and forensic evidence will be sought, collected and analyzed. Some will be helpful, some will be misleading. With so many journalists present, initial coverage largely was self-correcting. The rumor of seven more bombs or a bomb at the JFK library was quickly spiked. The story that local officials blew up a third bomb lasted a little longer. That was half-correct: They blew up a package/backpack but it was not a bomb. There were only two bombs as of this writing.
Everyone with a microphone seems to be saying the Boston bombing investigation will be complex and unhurried. Many recall how long it took to abandon suspicion of security guard Richard Jewell as the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber. False leads will abound and forensic evidence will be sought, collected and analyzed. Some will be helpful, some will be misleading.
• If bombers hoped to create terror, the Boston Marathon was a smart choice: there would be lots of images from cell phones and the news media. It fits my theory of 9/11: the initial 2001 attack on the World Trade Center tower was timed to assure the news media would get full coverage of the jetliner flying into the second tower.
• Moving on from bloodshed, Rachel Richardson’s Enquirer story about dogs in the workplace was a smart story, especially part about socialization being vital to a dog fitting in.
And she pushed my nostalgia button. My first job out of college was night editing a daily paper in Italy. I bought a Belgian Shepherd (Groenendael) pup and named him Loki for the Norse trickster. His mother was a part-wolf/mountain shepherd's companion and father was an Italian ex-Army K9. With long, silky black coat, a plume of a tail, alert eyes and ears, Loki was an unbeatable chick magnet.
His socialization comprised strolling Rome, riding and waiting in my car, joining me in bars and restaurants, and lying under my desk at the Rome Daily American at night when I was the only journalist. I didn't know the breed is famous/infamous for one-person loyalty and instinct to protect: person, possessions, etc.
Loki didn’t approve of anyone approaching my desk when I was in the back shop where type was set, pages were composed and the press run. Anyone else would bring him to his feet, ears back, shoulder blades up, teeth bared . . . but silent. Even as a pup, he could be menacing. “Lupo siberiano,” or Siberian wolf, was the Roman nickname for the breed.
Night messengers who brought engraved zinc plates — photos for every edition in that ancient era of hot type and flatbed press — quickly learned to avoid the newsroom and come directly into the back shop. Loki was a force to be accommodated.
Away from the office, he’d curl up on my Sunbeam Alpine’s passenger seat and bite anyone who was silly enough to reach into the car in hopes of a quick theft.
He rarely let go before I returned and that could create Roman opera buffa. Loki’s victim typically threatened to call police about my vicious dog and — without telling Loki to let go — I offered to help by shouting for police. We never did call for police. When released, the would-be thief unfailingly walked away, cursing me for enticing him with an open sports car into what he hoped was a crime of opportunity.
When I worked days, Loki stayed home nearby. His socialization didn’t accommodate the chaos of a small, crowded newsroom with strangers coming and going.
Again, thanks for the reminder: fun, smart and god help us, mindful of Enquirer watchdog obligations.
• As anticipated here, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is following other Newhouse dailies by reducing home deliveries to three days a week: Sunday and two days to be named later. The PD says it will print seven days a week for street sales. It also plans to fire about a third of its newsroom staff. It’s a sad demise of what long was Ohio’s best daily.
• The Enquirer business section headline was “Survey: Downtown seen as more positive.” That’s also what the story said, based on what Downtown Cincinnati Inc. told the paper. The accompanying photo showed people playing in Washington Park in Over-the-Rhine. People feeling positive downtown just weren’t photogenic.
• Read Gina Kolata’s April 7 New York Times story on a new understanding of the role of red meat in heart trouble. It’s among the best story telling in a long time. It’s a complicated subject but she draws us in with researchers sitting down to sizzling sirloin breakfast “for the sake of science.” It gets even better as she explains that the science involves “a little-studied chemical that is burped out by bacteria . . . “ Talk about imagery. Send photos.
• NPR is killing its Monday-Thursday afternoon call-in show, Talk of the Nation, and we’ll all be poorer for it. Talk of the Nation involves civil, lengthy discussion of timely topics. NPR is working with Boston’s WBUR to create a program for Talk’s 2-4 p.m. time slot. NPR says member stations wanted a program more like Morning Edition and All Things Considered in the afternoon and evening. Too bad. Expect lots of canned (and cheaply produced) interviews that seem to be the promise of the new show.
• Journalists should refuse to name sources to whom they’ve promised confidentiality. The corollary, of course, is to ask first whether we’re willing to serve time for contempt of court if we reject a judge's demands that we break our word and name our source(s). In that sense, we probably don’t think it will happen to us and almost mindlessly promise confidentiality to encourage sources to talk to us.
So when there is a court confrontation, the refusenik journalist typically is cast as the hero and the judge as a mindless apparatchik and/or tool of the prosecutor. That’s too simple. Reporters are free to ask their sources to release them from their promise of confidentiality. Judges should compel testimony only when prosecutors have used every other way to identify reporters’ sources and silence could pervert justice. Judges are on the hot seat as much as reporters.
The latest unresolved contest involves Jana Winter who quoted unnamed law enforcement personnel when she reported that Aurora, Colo., gunman James Holmes sent an incriminating notebook to his psychiatrist before massacring moviegoers. FoxNews.com’s Winter said the notebook was filled with violent notes and drawings. Now that the apparently accurate information is out, I don’t see how the sources’ identities matter to a fair trial if there ever is one.
Rather, I like what Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at the University of Maryland, told the New York Times: “If you required reporters to disclose their sources every time there was a minor leak in a high profile criminal case, the jails would be filled in America with journalists.”
• London’s Daily Mail reports the auction of a log book kept by the RAF navigator whose “bouncing bomb” breached a vital German dam during World War II. The raid was portrayed in the film, The Dambusters. The Daily Mail’s story was spoiled only by a photo of the unique bomb being dropped by a twin-engine plane; Dambusters flew four-engine Lancaster heavy bombers.
• Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is loathed to degrees that W and Obama cannot imagine. Her death last week sparked national demonstrations of joy even as the government and palace hoped that her almost-state funeral in London could be protected from demonstrators. Haters danced in the street, daubed “Rust in Hell” about the Iron Lady, and sang “Ding, Dong, the Witch Is Dead.” That forced BBC to decide whether to play that song from the Wizard of Oz movie on BBC radio shows dedicated to hit songs or on news programs about Thatcher’s life and death. The song reportedly became No. 1 on iTunes before the funeral and it was headed for the top of the pop charts, pushed by Thatcher haters. At last report, BBC’s director general said only a 5-second snippet would be allowed on the main radio channel. New to his job, he pissed off everyone.
• Patrice Lumumba was the Congo’s first prime minister after Belgium granted independence to the huge, potentially wealthy and criminally unprepared colony. He was murdered not long before I began working on the Congo border in Northern Rhodesia. He already was a martyr-hero of the Left when I studied African anthropology in London.
Lumumba’s abduction, torture and murder were popularly assumed to be a CIA operation, working with Belgians, rebels in copper-rich Katanga province, and others who coveted the Congo’s mineral wealth and mines.
Now, a curious news story in London’s Telegraph says Britain’s worldwide Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) engineered Lumumba’s death. More curious is the weight it gives to a second-hand source. It quotes Lord Lea of Crondall quoting Baroness (Daphne) Park of Monmouth, who was the senior MI6 officer in the Congo then, as saying she "organised it.”
Lord Lea told the Telegraph, "It so happens that I was having a cup of tea with Daphne Park – we were colleagues from opposite sides of the Lords – a few months before she died in March 2010. She had been consul and first secretary in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, from 1959 to 1961, which in practice (this was subsequently acknowledged) meant head of MI6 there. I mentioned the uproar surrounding Lumumba's abduction and murder, and recalled the theory that MI6 might have had something to do with it. 'We did,' she replied, 'I organised it.'"
The Telegraph said Lord Lea claimed Baroness Park reasonably was concerned that Lumumba might be a communist siding with Soviet Russia. After all, African and Asian independence leaders like Lumumba, South Africa’s Mandela and others often found their most active Cold War support mainly in Moscow and the wider Communist movement.
Initially blaming the CIA wasn’t irrational. By Lumumba’s death in 1961, the CIA had engineered the overthrow of elected governments in Iran and Guatemala and botched the Bay of Pigs invasion to topple Cuba’s Fidel Castro.
Belgium apologized in 2002 for failing to prevent
Lumumba’s death. In 2006, the Telegraph said, “documents showed the CIA
had plotted to assassinate him but the plot was abandoned.”