by Ben L. Kaufman
34 days ago
Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond
• Tuesday’s Enquirer abandoned its traditional timidity
and published bloody color images of victims of Boston Marathon
bombings. Good. I’m sure also there were images too ghastly for the
breakfast table, but the shift is welcome. The inside image of an
elderly runner knocked down by the blast and framed by Boston cops
running toward the explosion was another good decision. He collapsed as
the blast surge hit him in the midst of other runners. We saw that on
TV/online. It was one of the earliest viral images. NPR said the
78-year-old man stood and walked to the finish line, saying he hadn’t
run 26 miles to quit.
• 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
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
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
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
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
• 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
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.”
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 17, 2013
I began this column wondering, “With so many search engines and online sources available, how much is enough?” Before the Internet, phone calls and checking clippings often sufficed.
0 Comments · Wednesday, April 17, 2013
At the end of past spring classes I’d
spend weeks in a thick-headed fog, obsessing over the state of America’s
education system; I was confused by our simultaneous political
demonization of China and our dependence on Chinese students to grow and
improve our science and technology departments. Wow, I used to think. Then in spring 2009 — after three years of teaching it — I realized how piously I had been thinking.
by German Lopez
75 days ago
Judge halts council's parking plan, city's deficit options, gun records could be sealed
City Council approved a plan
to lease the city’s parking assets to the Port of Greater Cincinnati
Development Authority, but the plan is now being held up by a judge’s
temporary restraining order (TRO). The plan was passed with an emergency
clause, which is meant to expedite the plan’s implementation, but it
also makes the law immune to referendum. The judge’s TRO, which will
delay implementation for at least one week, will provide enough time to
process a lawsuit filed by Curt Hartman, an attorney who represents the
Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), on behalf of
local activists who oppose the plan and argue it should be subject to
referendum. The parking plan will lease the city’s parking assets to
fund development projects, including a 30-story tower and a downtown
grocery store, and help balance the deficit for the next two fiscal
years. Opponents say they’re concerned about the plan leading to parking
rate hikes, and they say the plan will not fix the city’s structural
Before the final vote on the parking plan, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. gave a presentation
to City Council that showed options for reducing Cincinnati’s
structural deficit, including a reduction or elimination of
lower-ranked programs in the city’s Priority-Driven Budgeting Process, a
reduction in subsidies to health clinics that are getting more money
from Obamacare, the semi-automation of solid waste collection or the
introduction of new or increased fees for certain programs, among other
Ohio senators are pushing a law that would make records of people licensed to carry concealed firearms in Ohio off-limits to journalists.
The senators say they were inspired to push the law after a New York
newspaper published the names and addresses of permit holders in three
counties. Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper
Association, says the law will decrease government transparency and
limit rights: “I wish the pro-gun forces would be as respectful of the
First Amendment as they are of the second, and they should be fearful of
excessive government secrecy.”
The superintendent and treasurer of the Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy, a charter school, were indicted
after allegedly using school funds to go to “Girls weekends” in
Chicago, sightseeing tours through California and Europe and a trip to
Boston to see Oprah — allegedly costing taxpayers more than $148,000. Dave Yost, state auditor, said in a statement, “The
audacity of these school officials is appalling. The good work by our
auditors and investigators has built the strongest possible case to
ensure they can never use the public treasury as their personal travel
The Ohio Department of Transportation and Kentucky Transportation Cabinet are working together
to make the case that any delays in the Brent Spence Bridge project
will hurt Greater Cincinnati’s economy. Most people involved in the
issue agree the bridge needs rebuilding, but not everyone agrees on how
the project should be funded. Northern Kentucky politicians in
particular have strongly opposed instituting tolls — one of the leading
ideas for funding the project.
In public hearings yesterday, service industry officials
said Gov. John Kasich’s budget plan, which will expand the state’s sales
tax to apply to more service, would drive some service providers out of Ohio
and make the state less competitive. Among other complaints, Carter
Strang, president of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, said
the plan could make it harder for Ohioans to access legal counsel by
increasing costs and reducing employment in the legal sector. CityBeat covered Kasich’s budget proposal in detail here.
State Auditor Yost filed a subpoena
to get JobsOhio’s financial records after the agency failed to turn
them over. The subpoena puts Yost at odds with Kasich, a fellow
Republican who established JobsOhio, a nonprofit company, in an attempt
to bring more jobs to the state and replace the Ohio Department of
Hamilton County is launching the Hamilton County Community Re-entry Action Plan,
which will help integrate ex-convicts back into society. Commissioner
Todd Portune told WVXU the plan will help with overpopulation in jails
and prisons: “When you build (jail and prison) facilities, the
population in them always seems to rise to meet whatever the (capacity)
level is in the facility. You never seem to have enough space. The real
answer beyond facilities is that we've got to turn around the lives of
the individuals who are in our corrections system that have made bad
choices.”The University of Cincinnati says it won’t block an outdoor display of vagina pictures on campus.
Yesterday, Kentucky’s U.S. Sen. Rand Paul held a nearly 13-hour filibuster to protest any possible use of drone strikes on American soil. Paul was joined by
senators from both sides of the aisle in his opposition to using the
strikes, which were used in Yemen in 2011 to kill Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American
citizen accused of being a high-ranking al-Qaeda official.
The same Cleveland judge who made a woman hold an “idiot” sign for driving around a school bus is making a 58-year-old man hold another sign
for threatening officers in a 911 call. The sign will apologize to
officers and read, “I was being an idiot and it will never happen
again.” The man will also go to jail for 90 days.
There used to be camels in Arctic Canada,
but that shouldn’t be too surprising — camels currently reside in the
Gobi Desert, which can reach -40 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter.
0 Comments · Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Here’s an unfortunate fact for journalism
teachers and angry website commenters all around the world: Reality
sometimes has a bias.
1 Comment · Thursday, January 3, 2013
It’s pretty widely accepted that creative
types — the kind whose work is meant to disseminated — share a common
trait: swollen, bulging egos that must constantly be nursed with
attention, positive or otherwise. The writer writes, of course, because
he likes the sound of his own voice.
2 Comments · Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Hopefully this isn't goodbye. But with the way things are in this economy and in this world today, I'm being forced to take a break from this column. We hope it can come back in the fall. Meanwhile, I'll be putting my reporter’s hat back on and writing in the news section.
0 Comments · Wednesday, October 15, 2008
A consistently bright spot in any presidential election is the negative print and broadcast ads. Attacking an opponent’s performance and proposed policies is wholly appropriate. I wish there were more. But many attack ads are so toxic, so distorted that they’ve become an art form of their own noxious kind. A valuable corrective to political bullshit is the nonprofit, nonpartisan factcheck.org.
Elissa Sonnenberg helps guide UC journalism into its future
0 Comments · Tuesday, September 23, 2008
“I always had an interest in journalism, but it wasn’t until I met Elissa that I thought it was possible to become a journalist,” says McLendon, UC Journalism ’08. “She encouraged me to pitch to national magazines, to take risks and go after big stories.