by Ben L. Kaufman 11.28.2012

Curmudgeon Notes 11.28.2012

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

• It was a double scoop when HUC Prof. Ben Zion Wacholder and doctoral student Martin G. Abegg Jr. released their bootleg translations of previously unpublished Dead Sea scrolls.  Their highly accurate texts were created without seeing the scrolls and they shattered secrecy created by a cabal of scholars who for decades restricted other researchers’ and translators’ access to the ancient documents. Steve Rosen’s recent Page 1 story in the Enquirer got that right. The other scoop was my 1991 Enquirer story reporting Wacholder and Abegg’s triumph. Our photo showed visually impaired Wacholder looking at a dramatically enlarged image on a Mac.   Their ordeal had its origin in a promise by then-HUC president Nelson Glueck in 1969. He agreed to house 1000-plus photographic images of the scrolls lest something happen to the originals. He also agreed with scholars controlling access to the scrolls that no one else would see the HUC negatives while the original scrolls existed. That included Wacholder. To his frustration, HUC honored that promise even after Glueck’s death and despite the growing international controversy over restricted scholarly access to many of the original scrolls.   Today’s Biblical Archaeology Society website, biblicalarchaeology.org, recalled how Wacholder and Abegg got lucky in 1989. Chief editor of the scrolls John Strugnell sent a copy of a secret concordance of the Dead Sea Scrolls to Wacholder. It “consisted of photocopies of index cards on which every word in the unpublished scrolls was listed, including its location and the few words surrounding it.” It was their Rosetta Stone. Wacholder and Abegg programmed the Mac to apply their knowledge of ancient literature to the data in the concordance. "I'm sick and tired of all this waiting," he told me at the time.  In 1991, the society’s Biblical Archaeology Review published the reconstructions, breaking the more-than-40-year-old monopoly on the scrolls. And when jealous scholars challenged the accuracy of the reconstructions, Wacholder was dismissive. "I'll match my knowing of the . . . texts - even blind — any of them. Wacholder died last year. Abegg became professor and co-director of the Dead Sea Scrolls Institute at Trinity Western University in British Columbia.  • I’ve described my fear that the Cleveland Plain Dealer — long Ohio’s best daily — will follow other Advance Publications into print obscurity.  PD journalists also heard the clatter of bean counters and created the Save The Plain Dealer campaign. Earlier this year, Advance — another name for Newhouse family publications — the New Orleans Times-Picayune as a traditional daily. It fired lots of journalists and now is printed three days a week to accommodate heavy advertising. Surviving journalists also work online every day. With that innovation, Newhouse made New Orleans America’s largest city without a daily paper. Smaller Advance dailies suffered the same fate. Poynter.com quoted an email from PD science writer John Mangels earlier this month: “The multi­media campaign will begin Sunday with a half­-page ad in The Plain Dealer, to be followed by bus and billboard ads throughout the city. TV and radio ads will appear soon. There will be mass mailings and e­ mailings to elected officials, political and business leaders and other people of influence. We’ll have a Facebook page with an abundance of content, a petition on Change.org, and a Twitter feed. We’re also working to organize community forums where we’ll discuss the future of journalism in Northeast Ohio, and the potential impact of the loss of the daily paper and much of its experienced news­gathering staff.” Later, reached by phone, Mangels told Poynter that PD  management hasn’t said anything about Advance’s plans. “The only detail that we’ve been told by our bosses here is that major changes are coming, layoffs in some number are coming,” Mangels said.  • Have you noticed how GOP aspirants for the 2016 presidential nomination are using long-reviled mainstream news media (MSM) to distance themselves from Romney and his disdain for retirees, veterans, Hispanics, African Americans, and young adults? I love the GOP’s irony deficit. They’ve spent decades teaching True Believers that the MSM is an evil, liberal cabal, not to be trusted. Now, these same Republican 40-somethings want voters to believe what the mainstream news media tell them about their aspirations and sagacity. They’re also fleeing Romney’s transparent hypocrisy and its blowback; benefits to Democratic constituencies are meant to buy votes but benefits for GOP constituencies never, ever should be understood as a way to woo financial support or votes.   • Here’s an angle I haven’t encountered in post-election coverage: an almost inevitable GOP win in 2016. Not only is a second elected term unusual for modern Democratic presidents, but a third term for either party is rare. Since FDR in 1940, only popular Republican Ronald Reagan was succeeded by a Republican, George H. W. Bush. I’m not alone if my reading to liberal columnists is a fair indicator of grudging agreement. They want Obama to push through agendas they’ve advocated for the past four years and to find the cajones to fight for his nominations when they go before the Senate led by Kentucky Pride Mitch McConnell.  • Propaganda-laden cable news and TV/radio talk shows can lull angry, fearful partisans and voters into believing what facts refute. And I mean refute not rebut. Anything out of sync with those GOP media was rejected as MSM bias. Whether it was a Pavlovian response, delusional thinking or magical realism, the result was Republican candidates, consultants, strategists, voters and Fox News were stunned when state after state went for Obama. Carl Rove went into a spin of denial on Fox News as election returns came in; he believed what Fox News had been telling him for months: Romney in a walk.  What was that cliche, something about drinking the Kool-aid? • This from Eric Alterman in his What Liberal Media? column in The Nation: “They watched Fox News, read The Wall Street Journal, clicked on Drudge and the Daily Caller, and listened to the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Hugh Hewitt, Karl Rove, Dick Morris and Peggy Noonan promise them that their Kenyan/Muslim/socialist/terrorist nightmare was nearly over. One election was all that stood between them and a country without capital gains taxes, pollution regulation, healthcare mandates, gay marriage and abortions for rape victims.” Alterman continued: “The less wonderful irony involves the supporting role the mainstream media played in this un-reality show. Post-truth politics reached a new pinnacle this year as major MSM machers admitted to a lack of concern with the veracity of the news their institutions reported. ‘It’s not our job to litigate [the facts] in the paper,’ New York Times national editor Sam Sifton told the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, regarding phony Republican ‘voter fraud’ allegations. ‘We need to state what each side says.’ ‘The truth? C’mon, this is a political convention’ was the headline over a column by Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post ‘fact-checker.’ Yes, you read that right.” How bad was it? Alterman quoted Steve Benen, a blogger and Rachel Maddow Show producer. He “counted fully 917 false statements made by Mitt Romney during 2012. Just about the truest words to come out of the campaign were those of the Romney pollster who explained, ‘We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.’ But not only did many members of the MSM give Romney a pass on his serial lying; they actually endorsed his candidacy on the assumption that we need not take seriously any of those statements the candidate had felt compelled to make in order to win the nomination of his party.” • In the expanding universe of online calumny, few American public officials or public figures strike back big time in part because of broad First Amendment protections available to defamers.  British libel law  makes it much easier for the victim to win. The latest target of false online vilification is Lord Alistair McAlpine. BBC implicated but didn’t name him in its spreading child abuse scandal. However, so little was left to the imagination that in Britain’s media/politics hothouse that McAlpine was named in myriad tweets.  BBC quickly admitted error and paid him almost $300,000 to salve his bruised feelings. ITV — Britain’s Independent Television — followed BBC with apology and more than $200,000 for inadvertently accusing McAlpine of abusing children. McAlpine is offering to accept a tweeted apology and modest payment from most of the tweeters. He’s less forgiving of  20 members of Parliament, journalists and other public officials and figures. They probably face costly libel actions in a country where it’s almost impossible for a defendant to win.  • Assume every microphone in front of you is “on.”  You don’t warm up with “There once was a man from Nantucket . . . “ on the assumption that mic is dead. Myriad public figures have ignored that Law of the Jungle to their pain. The latest is Jonathan Sacks, Orthodox chief rabbi of Great Britain, who delivers a “Thought for the Day” regularly on BBC radio’s  Today program.  Here’s the Telegraph report and another statement from the overworked BBC apology machine. After Sacks finished and apparently assumed his mic was turned off, host Evan Davis asked, “Jonathan, before you go, you know, any thoughts on what’s going on over in Israel and Gaza at the moment?” Lord Sacks sighed, before replying: “I think it has got to do with Iran, actually.” Cohost Sarah Montague realized Sacks did not seem to know his remarks were being broadcast and she could be heard to whisper: “We, we’re live.” Lord Sacks adopted a more formal broadcasting manner and suggested the crisis demanded “a continued prayer for peace, not only in Gaza but for the whole region. No-one gains from violence. Not the Palestinians, not the Israelis. This is an issue here where we must all pray for peace and work for it.”  Later, BBC apologized for catching Sacks off-guard. A spokesman said: “The Chief Rabbi hadn’t realized he was still on-air and as soon as this became apparent, we interjected. (Host) Evan likes to be spontaneous with guests but he accepts that in this case it was inappropriate and he has apologized to Lord Sacks. The BBC would reiterate that apology.” • So far, I haven’t found a news angle beyond prurience in the Petraeus resignation. Yes, there could have been a national security issue, but once then-spymaster Petraeus went public about his extramarital affair, he couldn’t be blackmailed.  We’ll never know how well the CIA would have run under Petraeus, but turning it further into an almost unaccountable paramilitary force with its fleet of deadly drones killing Americans abroad and others would not have been in the national interest. We need a good spy agency. Killing people you’re trying to subvert and convert is a lousy game plan.  • Admiring and available women are no stranger to powerful public and corporate leaders. Generals are no exception. Neither are social climbers hoping to use them.  All that’s missing from the Petraeus soap opera is for some just-married junior officer to claim his general exercised droit du seigneur.  • We can wonder what their frequently mentioned Lebanese origins have to do with the Tampa twins’ roles in the Petraeus soap opera, or whether Paula’s arms are fitter and better displayed than Michele’s. After that, let’s get to the fun stuff: the ease with which law enforcement obtains our emails.   • And a belated Thanksgiving note. Somehow, I found a turkey on the Copperbelt in Central Africa where I was editing the new daily Zambia Times. I did my best to explain how to roast it with stuffing to the cook in the house I was caring for. He served it that evening with obvious pride. It was brown, roasted over open coal on a spit he’d tended for hours. The stuffing was special beyond my dreams: the sonofabitch had used the kosher salami I’d hoarded for months for stuffing. I thanked and praised him through clenched teeth and dug in. It was memorable. And awful.

Worst Week Ever!: Nov. 14-19

0 Comments · Tuesday, November 20, 2012
MONDAY NOV. 19: Justin Bieber won artist of the year at the AMA awards last night, leading readers of things everywhere to become less jaded by all the publications that run “Signs of the Apocalypse” blurbs within them.  
by Ben L. Kaufman 11.14.2012
Posted In: News, Media, Media Criticism, Ethics, Internet at 10:49 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Curmudgeon Notes 11.14.2012

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

•    Monday’s Enquirer carries a sanitized obit for Larry Beaupre, the fine, aggressive Enquirer editor whose career was destroyed by a trusted reporter during the Chiquita scandal.     Larry’s genius was motivating his staff to take chances and go the extra step. No one wanted to admit not making the last phone call to check something in a story. We made those calls. As part of that, Larry brought the “woodshed” to the Enquirer newsroom on Elm Street. It was the perfect walk to his corner office overlooking the Ohio and Licking Rivers. There, Larry would privately discuss some failing or pratfall in that morning’s paper. My favorite Larry story — there is no way I’ll call him Beaupre — is Lucasville. I was involved in coverage of that prison riot and occupation from its start on Easter, 1993. Larry was part of Pulitzer-winning coverage of the bloody Attica prison revolt in New York. He gave us everything we asked for at Lucasville. In the middle of that deadly mess — 24/7 for 11 days in Scioto County red clay mud outside the prison on what became press row — he drove down to deliver Sunday papers and thank his bleary staff. That’s leadership. “I will never forget the Sunday morning when Beaupre showed up,” then-reporter Howard Wilkinson recalled for an earlier column. “He asked me what we needed. ‘Cash, and lots of it,’ I said, explaining that we had to buy food and clothing for the crew, most of whom came unprepared for 11 days in the mud. Larry pulled his wallet out of his back pocket and start counting out a wad of $50s . . . gave me $500 on the spot, which I ended up spending at Big Bear and the Subway in Lucasville. ‘There’s more where that came from,’ Beaupre said.” Larry didn’t meddle when things went right. There always were questions about why we didn’t have some Lucasville story that someone else did. Larry always accepted “we checked it out and it’s not true.” We got it right and he honored that.     A year later, he made sure we knew that a routine Lucasville anniversary story wasn’t acceptable. Kristen DelGuzzi and I spent weeks on race, religion and crowding in prisons around the country and Lucasville. The ordinary was not acceptable to Larry or his editors.Not long ago, I sent Howard Wilkinson’s comment to Larry, along with that column anticipating the 20th anniversary of Lucasville in 2013. Larry responded warmly, saying it’s nice to be remembered for something beyond Chiquita. However, it’s the nature of our trade that we’re remembered for our biggest screwups. Ask Dan Rather. So it is with Larry: the year-long investigative effort and special 18-page section describing what reporters Mike Gallagher and Cam McWhirter learned about Chiquita operations here and abroad. Typically, Larry gave two trusted reporters all of the resources they needed. He and Gallagher had worked together before Larry brought him to Cincinnati. Gallagher’s decision to eavesdrop on Chiquita voice mails doomed the project and cost Larry his career. They gave us a dark view of Chiquita operations, especially in Central America. The project blew up in our faces and Larry was the scapegoat even though the stories had gone all of the way up the corporate chain and back again. Readers noted that despite the three page 1 apologies and curious renunciation of the stories that followed revelation of Gallagher’s dishonest reporting methods, the Enquirer did not retract the facts.Larry and the Enquirer had challenged the most powerful man in Cincinnati, Carl Lindner. Gallagher’s dishonesty gave Lindner his opening and Lindner crippled the paper for years. As part of the deal with Lindner and Chiquita, the paper paid $14 million. More devastating was the condition that Larry had to go. He did. McWhirter was moved to a top reporting job at the Gannett paper in Detroit. David Wells was removed as local editor — the one job he always wanted at the Enquirer - but stayed to become opinion page editor. Gallagher — who lied to everyone about how he got those voice mails and included his lies in the published stories — was fired. He stayed around to plead guilty to tapping Chiquita voice mail system and stayed out of prison by naming his Chiquita-related sources. The Enquirer lost the passion and editing talents of Larry and David Wells and Cam McWhirter’s reporting skills. Other colleagues began leaving; the Enquirer was tainted goods. Job applications from similarly talented journalists dried up, I’m told, for years. I’m not sure the Enquirer ever recovered. •    Larry (above) and his family moved to Mt. Lookout from West Chester when he came from New York.  No matter what landscapers planted in his garden overlooking Ault Park, deer ate them. Then there were the raccoons. Larry came to my desk in distress, wondering what he could do. I suggested a nonlethal Havahart trap. Let the critter loose in another park. Larry tried it. Bait would be gone, the trapdoors closed and no ‘coon. One night he stayed up to see what was going on. The critter went in, ate the bait, and when the doors dropped, other raccoons tipped over the trap. Doors opened and “prisoner” walked free. I think he gave up; Midwestern deer and raccoons were more than his New York smarts could conquer. •    If you missed it, go back to last Tuesday’s Enquirer opinion page and read mediator Bob Rack’s essay on civility in public life. It’s broader than elections and is more practical than the typical admonishment to behave. •    Thursday’s Enquirer started a page 1 watch on the Pride of the Tristate, naysaying obstructionists Mitch and John. I hope Enquirer reporters tell us what Mitch and John and their House and Senate colleagues do in the name of “bipartisanship.” Skip their words. Watch what they do.  •    “Gravitas” apparently is so 2010. The new word favored by many politics writers is “meme.” A wise editor once told me to avoid foreign words unless they’re so common that even an editor would know them. Meme — from the Greek — fails. •    Quotationspage.com attributes this famous aphorism to department store merchant John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half.” I wonder if that’s true about campaign ads. Billionaire right-winger Sheldon Abelson helped poison the well but the New York Times says only his candidates drank; they all lost. I haven’t seen a similar analysis of libertarian Koch brothers spending but it reportedly was far greater than even Abelson’s. Democrats countered by raising and spending zillions. The only difference was the far greater number of Democratic donors needed to reach the magic totals. Great for TV stations but brain damaging for the rest of us.     •    There is no “financial cliff.” We’re not going to go over it on Jan. 1. An end to Bush tax cuts won’t pitch us in a recession on Jan. 2.  Sequestration won’t suck zillions out of the economy in one day. Yes, there is a downward economic slope if Congress and Obama don’t sort out the tax/deficit mess. So, why do journalists continue to parrot bipartisan “over the cliff” rhetoric when the facts they report make it clear that no such precipice exists?  •    My nomination for a “Useless” award is the New York Times telephone people who are supposed to help with home delivery problems. Twice last week, the Times wasn’t there in the morning and replacement papers weren’t delivered that day or the next. That included Wednesday’s paper with the election results. More aggravating was the blue-wrapped Times on my neighbor’s drive, giving lie to the Times’ “problem resolution” staff’s explanation that there were problems at the printing plant. Times’ operators  and clueless supervisors were in Iowa: dim bulbs who sounded like they read from an all-purposes script.•    I finally used the New York Times website to email their vp/circulation. A reply came quickly, promising to contact the Enquirer whose carriers deliver the Times. A prompt call from Enquirer circulation on Elm Street promised replacement papers and a personal delivery. Didn’t happen. Still hasn’t, a week later. A perfect union of ignorance and interstate bullshit. •    Last week’s CityBeat cover story was the annual Project Censored; the most underreported major stories in the major news media. The list misses my No. 1 most underreported story of the year: third-party candidates for the presidency and their platforms. About the only time the major news media noted Third Party existence was to wonder if a third party might get enough votes to deny victory to a Democrat or Republican in any state(s). Affecting a state’s vote totals would be bad for democracy, those news media anxieties imply. So I’d offer two suggestions to my 24/7 news media colleagues. First, voting one’s principles is not bad for democracy and it has the potential for great news stories. Second, third party platforms suggest ingredients in whatever becomes conventional wisdom in 2016 or 2020. That’s what third parties do; hopeful but realistic, they do the thinking that seems to escape mainstream Democrats and Republicans. If you doubt me, look at what came out of the Progressive era 100 years ago and what might come out of Tea Party initiative and energy. •    Are news media short of photos of Petraeus in civvies? He’s no longer a general. Most images I saw after his surprise resignation had him in uniform. Also, the developing story of how his affair was discovered is fascinating. The FBI stumbled on Petraeus when it was investigating a complaint of online harassment against Paula Broadwell, the adoring graduate student who became author of the new Petraeus biography and his lover. The complaint came from another woman, a frightened friend of the Petraeus family. Agents looking at Broadwell’s emails found  classified information and romantic emails between Petraeus and Broadwell. Tacky as this is, it fell to Jay Leno to sum it up: Guys, Leno said, if the head of the CIA can’t keep an affair  secret, don’t you try it because if you do, “You’re screwed.” •    BBC’s sex scandal — knighted entertainer Jimmy Savile and others at BBC abused hundreds of girls for years — continues to spread. So far, it hasn’t touched the BBC World Service which Americans get on WVXU/WMUB and other FM stations. Last week, however, it cost BBC’s new top exec his job. He quit after one of his reporters suggested during a TV interview that he should “go” and a former Cabinet minister responsible for BBC said  Winnie the Pooh would have been a more effective curb on careless, defamatory reporting. The latest mess involves BBC’s top domestic current affairs/investigative TV program, Newsnight and the broader issue of child abuse by prominent and powerful figures in British public life. BBC’s Newsnight broadcast Steve Messham’s claim that a top Conservative politician was among men who molested him in a state children’s home during the 1980s. Newsnight didn’t name the Tory but others did on social media: Lord Alistair McAlpine. He came forward last week and denied wrongdoing. When Messham saw a photo of McAlpine after the broadcast, Messham recanted and apologized. His abuser wasn’t McAlpine. No one showed Messham a photo of McAlpine before broadcasting his accusation. BBC last week apologized “unreservedly.” That phrase usually means a libel suit is anticipated. Meanwhile, BBC officials canceled Newsnight investigations. Newsnight already is under investigation for killing an program that would have outed Savile as a serial abuser. Savile is dead but three colleagues have been arrested so far. •    Thedailybeast.com excerpts from Into the Fire, a book by Dakota Meyer, the Kentuckian who won the Medal of Honor in Afghanistan. It’s a toy chest of news tips for reporters. Here’s part of the excerpt: When I got home in December, I felt like I had landed on the moon. Kentucky is pretty much what you think: cheerful bluegrass music like Bill Monroe, rolling countryside, good moonshine, great bourbon and pretty girls. Greenery, lakes, the creeks and rolling hills, forests, birds, other critters and all the farms. There’s that genuine friendliness that comes with small towns and close-knit families. You don’t want to act like an asshole because it will get back to your grandmother by supper.“Something like: ‘Well, Dakota, I hear you had some words today with that neighbor of Ellen’s sister’s boy.’“Dad, of course, was happy to see me, as were my grandparents, so that was a good feeling. Dad didn’t give me a hard time about Ganjigal, and neither did my leatherneck Grandpa. We just didn’t talk much about it. It was great seeing my family and friends, but they had their own lives. Everyone around me was excited about football, Christmas, and other normal things; I was looking at the clapboard houses and the cars and thinking, man — so flimsy. They wouldn’t give cover worth shit in a firefight.“It was an exposed feeling. And where were my machine guns? I found my old pistol and kept it around like a rabbit’s foot, but I missed my 240s and my .50-cals something awful. It seems weird, I’m sure, but I really just wasn’t buying it that there wasn’t some enemy about to come over the green hills, and I felt so unprepared—I wouldn’t be any good to protect anybody.“I was set to soon go off to Fort Thomas, Kentucky, for PTSD therapy . .  . “•    Next year, we’ll commemorate the botched Bay of Pigs invasion. It wasn’t the last time we underestimated the resilience of a far weaker “enemy.” JFK reportedly told the Times that he would have aborted the invasion if the Times had had the cajones to publish what it knew about preparations in Florida and Central America. However, during the two weeks before the invasion, the Times published stories about the preparations. •    Next year, we’ll also commemorate JFK’s murder. I watched demonstrators at our London Grosvenor Square Embassy vilify the U.S. for its role in the Cuban missile crisis. The night of JFK’s death, crowds were back . . . to sign a book of condolences. •    A federal judge ordered the FBI to pay journalist Seth Rosenfeld $479,459 for court costs and lawyers’ fees. He sued the FBI after it ignored his appropriate requests under the Freedom of Information Act. Poynter.com says Rosenfeld will donate the money to the First Amendment Project Project in Oakland, Calif. It handled his case pro bono for 20 years. That’s chump change to the bureau and it costs individual agents nothing for blowing him off. Meanwhile, news organizations say broad resistance to FOIA requests has worsened throughout the federal government under Obama. •    Newsweek is going digital-only next year, in keeping with boss Tina Brown’s changing reading habits. She says she doesn’t even look at newsstands any longer; everything she wants is on her Kindle. Of course, she’ll fire people. Newsweek always was No. 2 to Time Magazine which continues its print edition. I’ve ignored giveaway offers from both magazines for years. It isn’t print, it’s their content. My choice? The Economist’s weekly U.S. print edition. •    ABC said his family was unaware of film director Tony Scott’s brain cancer when he jumped off a bridge in August and died. Now, ABC admits its original unverified and uncorroborated story was wrong. There was no brain cancer. It only took two months to admit and correct the error.
by Ben L. Kaufman 10.31.2012

Curmudgeon Notes 10.31.2012

Media musings from Cincinnati and beyond

•    After weeks of dreary campaign coverage and soul-destroying political ads, here’s a day brightener. Jian Ghomeshi’s long-format interview radio show, Q, scored a rare interview with J. K. Rowling. She was in New York promoting her first adult-audience book, The Casual Vacancy.     Among other things, Ghomeshi asked why she courts news media criticism by giving so few interviews. “Well, I just don’t think I have that much to say.” And why do the news media make so much of her reluctance? “That’s because the media is very interested in the media,” she said.     I laughed so hard I had to sit down in our northern Ontario cabin. Q is a morning program and evening repeat on Canada’s CBC Radio. Q is heard here at 9 p.m. weekdays on WVXU. •    Further proof that life as we know it revolves around Cincinnati: the Oct. 29 New Yorker’s essay on the fraud of voting fraud begins with Hamilton County. We’re the perfect example of GOP supporters trying to intimidate voters. A key point made by reporter Jane Mayer’s sources: photo IDs might deter someone impersonating a genuine voter but you don’t corrupt an election that way. You need massive — if subtle — manipulation of the vote count. •    So, is anyone confident your vote will be counted accurately? We don’t get a receipt showing how our votes were tallied. Any retailer can give us a receipt showing what we’ve paid by charge or debit card. So where are the reporters asking Boards of Elections why it can’t give us a receipt and editorials demanding this accountability? Receipts won’t prevent corrupt officials, employees or hackers from going into voting-counting computers after we vote, but it might deter some. •    Hamilton County Board of Elections assures the Enquirer that its voting machines are secure. No computer-based anything is secure. Computers are more or less vulnerable to external hacking and surreptitious insider reprogramming. Worrying about GOP ties to voting machine companies doesn’t make me a conspiracy crank. It matters because of Romney’s links to the current equipment provider. In 2004, the then-provider of our voting machines was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president (Bush) next year.” That was Walden W. O'Dell’s promise. He was chief executive of Canton-based Diebold Inc., which made voting machines Ohio used in 2004. W carried Ohio that year. •    GOP efforts to restrict voting is second only to the Republican commitment to ending a woman’s access to abortion. It’s not new. In all of this year’s reporting about Republican voter suppression — photo IDs, phony “official” mailings misdirecting voters of color, etc. — didn’t find references to William Rehnquist before he was Chief Justice of the U.S.     Google is rich with Rehnquist’s dark history as a GOP operative. This came from a files.nyu.edu post about John Dean’s book, The Rehnquist Choice. The folks at New York University said “Dean was a member of Nixon's cabinet, was Nixon's counsel in the Watergate affair and played a prominent role in selecting Rehnquist as a Supreme Court nominee. He writes that Rehnquist was part of roving ‘squads’ of Republican lawyers who went from precinct to precinct, confronting and harassing black and Latino voters.” Here’s what Dean wrote on pages 272-273 of The Rehnquist Choice:     “Collectively, these witnesses described 'squads,' or teams, that moved quickly from precinct to precinct to disqualify voters, confronting black and Hispanic voters standing in line at the polls by asking them questions about their qualifications, or holding up a small card with a passage from the U.S. Constitution and demanding that the voter read it aloud; also photographing people standing in line to vote."     "All told, the Democrats produced fourteen people who swore they had witnessed Rehnquist challenging voters. In rebuttal, the Republicans produced eight witnesses who claimed they had not seen or heard of Rehnquist challenging voters — but none of them could testify that they were actually with Rehnquist during any entire election day, nor did their testimony cover all the elections involved in the charges . . . The evidence is clear and convincing that Rehnquist was not truthful about his activities in challenging voters." •    Most Americans tell pollsters they rely on TV for their news. Next Tuesday, these viewers will take their rich opinions and impoverished facts into the voting booth. This recalls Mr. Whig, the  fictional alter ego of a great Enquirer editorial page editor, Thom Gephardt, who frequently muttered, “I fear for the Republic.” •    Much as I have followed campaign coverage, I have little or no idea of what Obama and Romney will do to create jobs, ease immigration problems, provide and pay medical professionals to care for millions to be covered by Obamacare, wean us from deadly coal, cope with problems associated with fracking for oil and natural gas, make the wind blow and sun shine, reduce or slow global warming, bring Palestinians and Israelis closer to a peaceful two-state resolution, deal with the Taliban when it returns to power, etc. Despite what I hear from any liberals/progressives, Obama hasn’t disappointed me; I wrote nothing on that blank slate in 2008. It sufficed that he wasn’t McCain. In his way, Romney increasingly recalls Nixon in 1972 with his “secret plan” to end the Vietnam war. He had no plan. That was the secret. Deja vu all over again. •    Mark Curnutte’s Sunday Enquirer post-mortem on the lethal street culture of revenge among some young black Cincinnatians is as current as perps who became victims soon after he interviewed them and Amanda Davidson took their photos. •    CNN.com “unpublishes” reporter Elizabeth Landau’s story linking women’s hormones to political choices. CNN says the story wasn’t edited adequately. The study by a Texas academic concludes that ovulation makes women feel sexier.  Ovulating single women are likelier to vote for Obama (liberal) and ovulating married women or women in other committed relationships are likelier to vote for Romney (conservative.) I wonder if CNN pulled the story because some subjects are beyond inquiry, like women’s abilities for math and science or racial/ethnic differences in various pursuits. Then there is the whole fantasy about “unpublishing” an online post. You can get to the original story — replaced by an editor’s note on CNN.com — at poynter.com or dailykos.com. •    The Seattle Times seeks to restore readers’ trust after it published free ads for the Republican candidate for governor and for supporters of a state gay marriage referendum. The ads make the paper part of each group’s propaganda machine. There is no other way to say it. Good luck to reporters who have to cover those campaigns. Maybe someone should create the “Almost Darwin Awards” for news media bent on self-destruction. You don’t know Darwin Awards? Look it up. The awards are as funny as Seattle Times’ claims to virtue are cringe-worthy.    After the paper’s ethical pratfall and a newsroom rebellion, the Seattle Times turned its fact-checkers loose on those free partisan ads and gave the ads a rating of “half true.” (T)wo ads that were checked contained two true claims, one mostly true, one half true and two that were false, the paper and Poynter.com said. •    Newsroom rebellions rarely go public like that by Seattle Times journalists (above). Years ago, then-owners of the Minneapolis Tribune and Star supported relocation of the Viking/Twins stadium from the ‘burbs to downtown. Here’s what the New York Times said in its obit of the publisher, John Cowles Jr.:    “Opponents, including staff members at The Minneapolis Tribune, thought it was a clear conflict of interest for the owner of a newspaper to take a public position on an important local issue it was covering . . . (S)taff members placed an ad in their own paper disassociating themselves from the company’s involvement.”•    Fifty years ago, we almost had a nuclear war over missiles in Cuba and en route on Soviet freighters. Regardless of where U.S. ships turned back the freighters, it was the real thing, no Gulf of Tonkin or Weapons of Mass Destruction fraud. I was at UPI in London and the Brits were very, very frightened; in a nuclear war, both sides’ missiles could be overhead and Soviets would attack Britain’s RAF and Royal Navy nuclear strike forces. I went to the U.S. Embassy in Grosvenor Square. The crowd was hostile. Least threatening were those carrying or wearing what is now known as the “peace symbol.” Then it was the much more potent and timely totem of Britain’s Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. •    Half a century later, that British CND symbol is a meaningless design for feathered earrings and leather-thong necklaces. But turn the symbol upside down so that the “wings” tilt up. You have the Brits’ Vulcan “V-bomber.” It was the heart of their Cold War airborne nuclear deterrent during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vulcan bases would have been targets in any nuclear exchange. •    Only a coverup is juicier than the original scandal, especially in broadcasting. BBC is tearing itself apart over the sex scandal. Arrests have begun: Convicted pedophile and BBC TV entertainer Gary Glitter is the first. Hundreds claim a leading children’s program presenter and colleagues molested hundreds of girls at BBC studios, children's hospitals and other locations. The focus of the probe, Jimmy Savile, is dead. His victims — including women at BBC — offer explicit tales of his harassment and abuse. BBC execs are accusing each other of lying or misleading parliament; Scotland Yard is beginning to ask why police didn’t act sooner on repeated reports and complaints about Savile and other abusers at BBC. •    AP says New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. last week reiterated his support for the Times’ new CEO, Mark Thompson. Thompson, who was BBC’s director general until last month, has been under scrutiny over the BBC’s decision to cancel its major investigative program about Savile sexually abusing youngsters. AP says Sulzberger told Times staff that he was satisfied that Thompson had no role in canceling the explosive program. As with all scandals and coverups, we will learn what BBC and Scotland Yard knew and when they knew it. Lovely.

Off the Record, for the Record

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 31, 2012
The perils of “off the record” were never clearer than when President Obama sought the Des Moines Register endorsement last week.  

Worst Week Ever!: Oct. 3-9

0 Comments · Wednesday, October 10, 2012
MONDAY OCT. 8: Pizza Hut will give an audience member at next week’s presidential debate at Hofstra University free pizza for life if they exploit the town hall format of it and ask one of the candidates if they prefer sausage or pepperoni as a topping during the debate.  
by Ben L. Kaufman 10.03.2012
Posted In: Media, Media Criticism at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Curmudgeon Notes 10.3.2012

Media musings on Cincinnati and beyond

•    I was in the Pacific Northwest and the three-hour time difference disrupted my already lousy sleep patterns. I dozed and listened to the BBC World Service on a local FM station when a familiar growl awakened me: WVXU’s Howard Wilkinson. You don’t work with a guy for a quarter century and not know his distinctive voice. BBC was in Cincinnati for an Obama visit and it wanted the best local politics reporter. Howard got up early. BBC got what it wanted. I eventually went back to sleep, lulled by BBC’s Humphrey Humphrey Humphreys reporting from some slum street in Dontunnastan. •    Enquirer Publisher Margaret Buchanan quit the UC board last week. It was a conflict of interests from the day she took her seat in 2006. She told the Enquirer, “My news team is reporting aggressively on the departure of UC President Greg Williams and the search for the next president. The credibility that is so important to our news team’s work is my highest priority, and I did not want my involvement with UC to make it uncomfortable or confusing for them or for the community.”The conflict existed when she helped spend taxpayers’ and students’ money for six years or hired Greg Williams as president. Her Road to Damascus moment apparently came in the fallout from Williams’ surprise resignation without explanation and curious $1.3 million parting gift.  Now, to avoid another conflict of interest, she should resign from the executive committee of 3CDC where she has more than a passing interest in how her paper covers the private redeveloper of the city’s urban core. These are the kinds of conflicts of interest that compromise the paper’s integrity and long have been unacceptable for reporters. Buchanan isn’t the first Enquirer publisher or editor to ignore a conflict of interest that raised questions about the integrity of related news stories. She probably won’t be the last. It would be ideal if everyone on the paper were bound by the same ethical standards.  •    Enquirer use of Freedom of Information Acts continues to pay off. Friday’s Cliff Peale story about the surprise resignation of UC President Greg Williams draws on information obtained through FOIA. Granted, there is no smoking gun; whatever Williams’ reasons for quitting, he was smart enough to keep them out of memos and emails subject to FOIA. What Peale is learning from documents and interviews suggests an irreparable breach between UC’s board and president on how each should do its job. •    Sunday’s Enquirer devotes two pages in Local News to sell its various media services. Most Enquirer services look to  newer ways it can provide news to readers (viewers?). Pay walls are there, too. Now, if the bean counters at Gannett would allow the Enquirer to open its archives to subscribers, the deal would be complete. •    Sunday’s Enquirer also exhibited a rediscovered spine with a major editorial opposing the streetcar project for Cincinnati. The reasoning, as far as it goes, is sound: there is no coherent plan to finance construction and operations and Cincinnati has more pressing infrastructure needs. •    For a related look into the Enquirer’s future, check the New York Times business page on Monday. It reports changes ordered by Enquirer owner Gannett at its Burlington, Vt., daily. They’re slightly ahead of our paper and reactions there are not as upbeat as those in memos to readers from the Enquirer’s editor and publisher. •    Fox News should not have apologized for broadcasting the suicide of a fleeing police suspect last week. Fox blamed inept use of its delay on live coverage. Lisa Wells, on WLW 700 Saturday, argued that Fox let it run for ratings; Fox knew what it was doing and there was no mistake. I can buy that. Ratings are why TV follows police chases live. In the video shot from a helicopter that followed the chase through traffic and on foot, the guy stops running, puts a handgun to his head and fires. His arm jerks and he slumps forward, away from the camera. So why apologize to a country where violent games and films are top earners and homicides generally are treated as a cost of urban living? If TV doesn’t expect something dramatic, why the live coverage from helicopters following fugitives and cop cars? •    Maybe vivid writing explains why Brits continue to buy daily papers. I culled this from the home page of London’s Telegraph: Chill wind blows for Mitt Romney in Ohio: As late September gales blew his dyed black fringe free from its gelled moorings, Romney's tanned face crumpled into a frown.•    A friend found this on NPR’s website. It promotes a broadcast by Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR’s Africa-based  correspondent. In part, the promo said, “She also describes the stories that have been exciting, including the U.S. presidential race of the Kenyan-born Sen. Barack Obama.” The promo was dated Oct. 9, 2008. Does that make NPR the most authoritative news medium to buy the “Birther” conspiracy? •    It’s a dead horse, but I have to beat it. Why do local news media tie unrelated homicides to nearby institutions? Killings on Over-the-Rhine’s Green Street unfailingly are described as “near Findlay Market.” Last week, Local 12 repeatedly linked a Corryville street shooting to UC although no one except Local 12 made that connection. Why didn’t the TV folks link the shooting to the University Plaza Kroger store which probably was even closer, or to Walgreens and CVS? •    Winston Churchill is one of the people credited with this or a similar aphorism: "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on." Today, he’d probably say, “A lie gets around the world in seconds after it’s posted on YouTube and it can’t be recalled.” So much for Madonna’s onstage lie that went viral after an audience member posted her line, “We have a black Muslim in the White House.” Now, she says she was being ironic.  I don’t know what’s scarier, listening to Madonna ranting on politics or True Believers hearing her as affirmation of their deeply held fears about Obama. •    Recently, Fox and Friends showed Obama talking with an actor dressed as a pirate. Fox said “The White House doesn’t have the time to meet with the prime minister of Israel, but this pirate got a sit-down in the Oval Office yesterday.” Later, Fox used the image as its “Shot of the Morning,” according to the AP and jimromenesko.com. Fox host Steve Doocy said, “Here’a quick look at what President Obama is up to, making sure he didn’t forget to mark International Talk Like a Pirate Day.’Uh, no. As the AP explained. The photo “was taken as a punchline for a joke Obama delivered to the White House Correspondents Association dinner in 2009 about the administration talking to enemies as well as friends.” Fox & Friends admitted on a tweet that the photo was more than three years old but there was no evidence Fox told its cable audience about the partisan network fraud. •    National Review, a long respected conservative magazine, proved it’s no better than Fox. It Photoshopped the Oct. 1 (Monday) cover photo to underline the wider GOP accusation that pro-choice Democrats are the pro-abortion party of death. Reuters/Newscom disowned the image, saying its original photo “was altered by National Review” in print and digital editions. Charlotte Observer photographer Todd Sumlin, who provided his shot from the same angle, told jimromenesko.com, “I was on the photo platform directly behind the President at the Democratic National Convention . . . (P)osters the North Carolina delegates are holding were changed from ‘Forward’ to ‘Abortion’.”•    It’s not clear who promised what to whom but the family of murdered Ambassador Chris Stevens says CNN used his journal without permission. CNN found the journal in the ruined Benghazi consulate and relied on it for some reporting without saying it was Stevens’ private thoughts. My gut response: don’t promise anything and use it. His journal contained information relevant to the attack that killed him and three more Americans. The only reason I can see for State Department objections is that the journal might have been more revealing than officials wished. •    I’m grateful to Eric Alterman, The Nation’s media columnist, who reported that when “asked about the film that seemingly inspired the riots and attacks, (Romney) echoed exactly the same sentiments contained in the Cairo embassy statement that he and his putative champions had previously found so contemptible. ‘I think the whole film is a terrible idea. I think [that] making it, promoting it, showing it is disrespectful to people of other faiths . . . I think people should have the common courtesy and judgment — the good judgment — not to be, not to offend other peoples’ faiths’.”As Alterman put it, “There you have it: Mitt Romney, terrorist apologist.” And if you think Alterman’s indulging in partisan hyperbole, here is the embassy statement issued before riots:“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”    •    Off-the-record always is tricky. Can you ever use what you learned? Can you use it if you disguise the source? Nothing is farther off the record than anything Britain’s reigning monarch says in private. Quoting her Just Isn’t Done. Now, Britain’s press is trying to assess the damage from the most tempest in a porcelain tea cup: a BBC reporter quoted Queen Elizabeth’s impatience with efforts to deport a radical imam to the United States to face terrorism charges. One does not say what, if anything, the Queen says to One. Talk about blowing access to a source. BBC and its reporter are new nominees for Golden Grovel Award. •    Then there is Andrew Mitchell, the sneering conservative parliamentary official who dismissed London bobbies as “fucking plebs.” He was outraged when they asked him to ride his bicycle through a side gate rather than the front gate at the prime minister’s residence at No. 10 Downing Street. Damning police as his social inferiors is perfectly in tune with the traditional Conservative Party but it’s Bad Form for a guy whose governing party is trying to dump its elite and elitist history and image. Mitchell’s fiercely upper class insult resonates through British society. The minister is posh — the right family, schools and universities, if not a Guards regiment. Constables are not. “Fucking” isn’t the problem. “Pleb” is. The New York Times explained that Mitchell’s slur implies that the London Metropolitan Police — also known as Scotland Yard — are “worthless nobodies” in class-conscious Tory Britain.

R.I.P. Metromix :’(

2 Comments · Wednesday, September 5, 2012
The decision to publish an entertainment weekly was largely seen as an attempt by Gannett to take marketshare from altweeklies like CityBeat and similar papers in other cities. In non-industry speak, Gannett was trying to kill us.   

Worst Week Ever!: Aug. 29-Sept. 4

0 Comments · Wednesday, September 5, 2012
SUNDAY SEPT. 2: Carolyn Washburn, editor and vice president of The Enquirer, wrote a piece in today’s edition explaining the new look of the paper’s print edition. Washburn said the new look of the paper will be like the Weekly Reader newspapers you used to get in grade school, but with fewer pictures of animals.  

GOP Rape Discussion Has Cincinnati Roots

1 Comment · Wednesday, September 5, 2012
As surely as the sun revolves around Earth, the gaffe that keeps giving has its origins in Cincinnati. I’m talking about Republican Todd Akin, the Missouri anti-abortion senatorial candidate who stupidly asserted that some rapes are “legitimate.”