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by Ben L. Kaufman 05.01.2013
Posted In: News, Media Criticism, Media, Ethics, Terrorism at 09:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Curmudgeon Notes 5.1.2013

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

In a disturbing decision, public radio’s Radiolab (WVXU-FM 8 p.m. Sundays) gave Cincinnatian Phil Heimlich critical control over its March 5 program on Phil’s dad, Henry Heimlich. 

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.  

by 05.06.2009
Posted In: Media, City Council at 04:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Still Not Welcome

An historic local political group’s policies about who may join are again raising questions about new media like the Internet and the citizen journalism movement.

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by Ben L. Kaufman 03.11.2013
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism at 08:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

New 'Enquirer' Tabloid Out Today

Ben Kaufman says it looks nice, arrived on time

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. 

That might not be bad. Others — who haven’t spent 50-plus years in the newspaper and wire service trade and worked on two tabloids — will decide whether the tabloid Enquirer works well enough to buy. That’s important because print ads bring in many times the cash of online ads.

Page 1 is a showcase. Catch the readers’ attention to turn them inside to highly promoted stories. That’s tabloid. Enquirer designers have been refining this for months on larger pages last printed yesterday.

Page 2 is weather and other stuff. My question: Will older readers complain about the small type? Readers who need glasses probably are the majority.

The organization of the rest of the paper is familiar and most stories are short. Good. Few stories today require more than that, especially one that continues for days and weeks. Regular readers will learn enough. Readers who are unsatisfied can learn more elsewhere without abandoning the Enquirer. It would be no crime if longer versions appeared on Cincinnati.com. That could be a productive synergy.

If there is a problem in the news pages, it’s the black/white inside news photos. Sports suffers most. Too many are too small, too dark. That could be an inking problem on the new Columbus Dispatch presses. If not, it would be ironic if the new Enquirer format meant fewer inside color photos and photographers having to relearn black-and-white photography.

And small news photos. Here’s where the format cramps. A large photo doesn’t leave much room for type and there is a limit to how many times readers will go to another page to learn more about the pictured event.

The special promotional section about the paper — with names and images of the staff — is a keeper in addition to the existing online contact list. It was good to see old colleagues and friends looking well and to put faces to new names. 
My one complaint is that the shift in headline type. Now, news stories and ads that imitate news stories now have the same or similar bold black headlines. That’s bad. Previously, news and ads had starkly different type faces. That was an honest effort to alert readers to the difference. I hope the Enquirer will find a new type face for ads since the bold, black headlines work for tabloid news.

Having nursed a new daily to life years ago, I still can recall the pleasure of holding that first edition. I hope Enquirer journalists know that feeling today.
by 12.03.2010
Posted In: Censorship, Media, Internet, Government at 03:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Number You're Not Supposed to Have

If you like pissing off overly authoritarian government initiatives, then you need to bookmark and use the following Web address.


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by German Lopez 08.03.2012
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism, News, Courts at 10:59 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Gannett Weekly Found Guilty of Defamation

Judge orders $100,000 in damages for newspaper’s defaming of police officer

A federal judge announced Wednesday that the Milford-Miami Advertiser, a Gannett-owned suburban weekly newspaper, was guilty of defaming police officer James Young.

Judge Michael Barrett affirmed the jury’s award for $100,000 in damages.

In an article published on May 27, 2010, the Milford-Miami Advertiser wrote that “Young had sex with a woman while on the job.” The accusation was found to be incorrect.

According to court documents, Young was initially fired from his job in 1997 after an internal investigation found semen in Marcey Phillips’s home after Phillips accused Young of forcing her to perform oral sex on him while Young was on duty. But a DNA investigation found that the semen found in Phillips’s home did not belong to Young, and Young was eventually given his job back.

The court documents say the Milford-Miami Advertiser article was written by Theresa Herron, the newspaper’s editor, but online archives of the article “Cop’s suspension called best move for city” say the article was written by Kellie Geist. Update: Herron wrote the section of the article that went to trial, while Geist wrote the rest.

Young testified that Herron never attempted to contact him before publishing the article, according to court documents. Herron testified that she did not fully read the documents for Young’s case, but she said she knew about the DNA testing and did not think it was important to the story.

When contacted by CityBeat, Herron said she did not feel comfortable discussing the case. The story was first reported by Courthouse News Service.

Gannett also owns the Cincinnati Enquirer. The Milford-Miami Advertiser covers community news in Miami Township and Milford, and it is part of the Cincinnati.com network.

by 12.03.2009
Posted In: Media, Financial Crisis, Business at 04:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

More Enquirer Furloughs on the Way

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.

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by 12.13.2008
Posted In: Media at 02:43 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Cuts Continue, NPR Cancels Programs

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.

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by 07.07.2009
Posted In: Media, Protests, 2008 Election at 03:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

Bronson's Disappearing Act

A recent blog item by Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson has generated plenty of national attention for the newspaper, all of the negative variety.

Bronson posted comments July 1 on his ironically titled blog, Bronson is Always Right, which criticized the long-delayed appointment of writer and comedian Al Franken as one of Minnesota’s senators. Accompanying the item was a photograph of Franken wearing a diaper, bunny ears and holding a stuffed animal. Bronson wrote, “There must be some great ads to be made from Franken’s clips and quips."

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by Bill Sloat 11.01.2012
Posted In: Media at 10:27 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

City Offers Cash Incentive to Local Media Giant Scripps

WCPO-TV’s parent corp. pledges to retain 184 jobs, add 125 more downtown

A deal is expected to be approved next week between E.W. Scripps Co. and Cincinnati could bring about $5.65 million in tax revenue to the city by 2018. It also means that Scripps — which was founded here in the 1800s — promises to expand and keep its corporate headquarters in Cincinnati for at least 10 more years. The media company currently resides in a downtown high-rise on Walnut Street, and the growth will be in cyber content as it morphs for the Internet Age. A City Hall document submitted to council in advance of next week’s meeting, says:

“The expansion downtown will be from the Scripps digital group that is growing and gaining momentum with new product offerings, enhancements and technology. These products will be developed for smart phones, tablets and computers.  They will include applications that push content from Scripps’ chain of newspapers and TV stations and distribute new content to consumers in cities that Scripps does not serve. The new jobs will include skills in sales, design, marketing and journalism.”

In all, the payroll is expected to reach $30 million when the 125 new jobs are added. The agreement says Scripps will make “good faith efforts to fill at least 75 percent of the new jobs created” with city residents. Scripps owns 19 television stations and 13 newspapers across the U.S. It used to publish the Cincinnati Post — the publication that started the entire Scripps company — but that daily newspaper was shuttered in 2007 because of sharp declines in readership. 
by Kevin Osborne 02.23.2012

Morning News and Stuff

In a move that's been expected for months, the parent company of The Enquirer informed investors Wednesday that all of its websites will implement a paywall model by year's end. Under the switch, online users will be able to access a limited number of articles for free every month, then must subscribe if they want to see additional digital content. Gannett Co. executives said it would probably offer between five and 15 articles for free per month, and compared the change to a system implemented by The New York Times last year. That newspaper, however, offers 20 free articles per month.

Hamilton County will soon have its first female coroner. The local Democratic Party's central committee will meet tonight to vote on the appointment of Dr. Lakshmi Kode Sammarco, a radiologist who lives in Indian Hill. She will replace Dr. Anant Bhati, who died last week from injuries sustained in a fall.

In a sign that the economy might be improving, local home sales increased in January. The Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors says sales last month rose almost 11 percent over January last year.

The city manager and his staffers at City Hall seem to be keeping pertinent facts from Cincinnati City Council. First, council members said they weren't aware that a Hamilton restaurant in line to get almost $1 million in grants and loans to open a location at The Banks just paid off a delinquent property tax bill that was almost two years old on their eatery in Butler County. Then, council members learned the city's recently hired human relations director had to resign from her previous position in Detroit over a controversy involving a severance payment. Although Georgetta Kelly said she had nothing to do with a $200,000 payout to a woman who voluntarily left a county job to become CEO of an airport, her signature appears on some of the documents.

In news elsewhere, a Georgia lawmaker who is disturbed by Republicans' increasing attempts to pass new legislation involving abortion and birth control has offered a proposal of her own. State Rep. Yasmin Neal, a Democrat, wants to begin regulating vasectomies. If approved, her bill would ban the practice of male sterilization except in cases where a man faces serious health risks without one. It was crafted as a response to a so-called “fetal pain bill” proposed by Republicans, which would ban abortions after 20 weeks.

Even though he wants to end the Afghanistan war and impose a more isolationist foreign policy, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul has received more donations from members of the military than all of his GOP rivals and President Obama combined during 2011's fourth quarter. Paul raised more than $150,000 from active-duty military personnel.

As banks foreclose on an increasing number of properties nationwide, tenants are discovering many of those lending institutions are neglectful landlords, NPR reports.

The United Nations has a secret list of top Syrian officials who could face investigation for crimes against humanity for their violent crackdown against anti-government protestors, according to a U.N. report. The list includes Syrian President Bashar Assad, said London's The Independent. Sources tell the newspaper as many as 500 children have been killed in the violence.