Tuesday, March 29, 2005

French-Kissing Cousins

The second time's the charm for two first cousins, who couldn't get married in Pennsylvania, but hopped over the border to Maryland, where such unions aren't frowned upon. Apparently, this is not a trend confined to Appalachia. Seems half the states allow first cousins to get hitched.

Monday, March 28, 2005

It's Safe To Say The Tattoo Doesn't Say "Mom"

Two guys in upstate New York are in jail for tattooing an obscenity on a teenager's forehead. Not exactly the conversation piece he had in mind.

L.A. Times: Don't Bury Tom Delay's Schiavo Moment In Time

Was catching up to the LA Times story on how Tom Delay's family pulled the plug on their father back in 1988 when a freak accident left him in a persistent vegetative state. Or, at least, was trying to catch up with what's a great story. The Times didn't include it in its Terri Schiavo archive, so you have to do a word search ("Tom DeLay" will do the trick) to get yesterday's article. Don't bury the lead!
And to save you the trouble, here's the story:
As for what DeLay's hometown, badly scooped Houston Chronicle will say on this issue. So far, apparently nothing. So far, it was content to run the Times story and leave it at that.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Weekly Read Out--Desperate Housebuyers, Other Victims of McGwire's Non-Testimony and a Real Fruity Ex-Cop

You thought buying a home was tough? You don't know tough!
Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci reveals who were the other losers when Mark McGwire clammed up at the Congressional steriods hearing.
Is that a banana in your pants, or are you just glad to see me? Actually, this time it really is a banana. Police in Connecticut were not amused.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Barry Bonds Gets Knee-Capped By The Media

Some reporters might have a thimble's worth of sympathy for Barry Bonds. But the media's out of thimbles.
The inmate running his own asylum told us yesterday his rehab from knee surgery might keep him out for the whole season, or maybe it might force him to retire.
"You wanted me to jump off the bridge; I finally have jumped. You wanted to bring me down; you've finally brought me and my family down."
At last, the conspiracy's been revealed. The media was behind Bonds' slow recovery from surgery, the likelihood he used, unknowingly or not, steroids, and they goaded Bonds' ex-mistress into claiming Bonds used steroids and gave her cash -- that may have been unreported to the IRS -- from autographing balls.
You think reporters and columnists are enjoying the latest episodes of As Barry Turns? Well, yes. San Jose Mercury News columist Mark Purdy envisioned taking a trip through Bonds' head and came away empty.
"Even after all these years of exploring Mr. Bonds' brain, we still find it impossible to figure out the hell is happening in there."
http://www.mercurynews.com/mld/mercurynews/sports/baseball/mlb/oakland_athletics/11203921.htm Phil Rogers of the Chicago Tribune says he didn't RSVP to Bonds' pity party. Instead, he hopes Bonds is going, going, gone for good.
"Well, it's fair to say the exasperation Bonds displayed Tuesday, caused as much by the continued revelations about his lack of character as concern about the right knee on which he has had surgery twice since Jan. 31, rang out more loudly than most of his 703 home runs."
In the past, Bonds has said he'd be content to not pass Hank Aaron and be number two on the home run list because Aaron was a black role model he admired. Or maybe, as the Bergen Record's Adrian Wojnarowski suggests, Bonds simply isn't up to the task of being a standard bearer.
"Finally, he's figured out that he probably isn't spiting baseball by chasing the final 52 home runs toward Aaron, but spiting himself."
In the end, notes Newsday's Jon Heyman, one winner out of all this might be Mark McGwire, who Bonds could wind up making lood good by comparison.
"One thing about Bonds is that he not only thinks he's a better baseball player than everyone else, he also thinks he's smarter than everyone else. He thinks everyone's swallowing his every word. He thinks we're all dummies."
One thing the baseball media may forget is if Bonds goes into rehab exile, there will be one less thing to carp about. They might actually have to cover, gasp, a real game.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

NPR's Morning Edition's Confusing Priorities

Not the best of days for the usually sturdy and reliable "Morning Edition." The program normally runs live from 5-7 a.m. ET. However, in the wake of 9/11, NPR took steps to ensure it was nimble enough to get on the air with breaking news when the network had to scramble to get on the air with fresh news when the first planes hit.
So, it was troubling this morning when the 7 a.m. rebroadcast of the 5 a.m. hour was not topped with news that had broke about 6:25 a.m., namely that the judge in the Terri Schiavo case refused to order that her feeding tube be reinserted.
Instead, Renee Montagne's open only referenced yesterday's hearing. Was she already out the door that she couldn't have retopped a story that had broken while she was still on the air? It would not have taken much to provide the update and then intro Ari Shapiro's fine report on what happened in court Monday, which was still a valid story.
The hourly newscast did have the latest information, but that show had its own shortcomings, namely the approximately 10 seconds devoted to the Minnesota school massacre, which happened fairly late in the news cycle Monday and was likely news to plenty of people upon wake up.
Instead, the better part of a minute was devoted to problems in the Congo in a report filed from Dakar, which is clean across the other side of Africa. Which is not to say that the information wasn't of interest, especially for someone like me who's long decried the decline of foreign news reporting and has admired NPR's doggedly bucking that trend with frequently excellent reportage.
Still, the Red Lake shootings were justly on every front page and and at the top of every morning news show. Fortunately, we have not yet become a nation inured to school massacres, and this one, being the worst since Columbine, more than warranted a thorough treatment that NPR took a pass on.
Even on Morning Edition, Montagne's Q&A with a laconic reporter from Minnesota Public Radio could have been fleshed out with interviews or at least soundbites from people closer to the scene. No dice.
Spare me the screeds about the blue-state elitists on the coasts who run NPR. They just don't hold water. Still, you can't help but wonder if this happened closer to a big city and not on an isolated Indian reservation that this wouldn't have gotten better play this morning. NPR's never used a remote location as an excuse for not covering a story.
So, let's chalk it up to just plain bad news judgment and hope that it's not as glaring in the future. For the millions of listeners who count on NPR for a concise yet contextual summary of what's happening, they were left with something much less than they might have expected and certainly deserved.

Friday, March 18, 2005

That Was Then, This Is Now: Columnists Skewer McGwire For Doing The Steroid Shuffle

Mark McGwire rightfully deserves all the scorn being heaped on him for yesterday's gutless appearance before the Congressional committee investigating steroids in baseball. He wouldn't say it ain't so. In fact, he said nothing much in between his crocodile tears. Watch the price on his rookie card plunge ever so fast.
Still, it's hard to watch our heroes take a fall. Even the surliest of sports columnists take a break from kicking a guy when he's down every now and then. Then there are the writers from the hometown papers who don't want to be flamed by furious fans and will keep the kid gloves on. They're gutless wonders in their own right.
Fortunately, Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch steered clear of that path today. http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/sports/columnists.nsf/bryanburwell/story/EE4E22381B91C4AF86256FC8001A4613?OpenDocument

[A]ll McGwire gave us were counterfeit tears and a rehearsed nondenial denial that would have embarrassed Dick Nixon.

McGwire first started launching taters for the Oakland A's, where the hometown Tribune's Monte Poole refrained from ripping into McGwire mano a mano. Instead, he took on the baseball establishment, which is arguably more deserving of a trip to the woodshed.

As for the executives summoned, well, they performed as expected. The folks who went after Pete Rose with considerably more fervor than they went after steroids not only will debate the color of the sky but also whether there is such a thing as the sky.

The knives were sharpened across the Bay at the San Francisco Chronicle, where Gwen Knapp didn't hesitate to call McGwire a coward.

[T]he beloved giant redhead who happily scooped up his son at home plate is gone. He didn't vanish because of the very strong probability that he took steroids that season. He disappeared because, as a heroic figure, he never really existed.

McGwire was credited, along with Sammy Sosa, for ushering in a new era of good feeling in baseball back in 1998 when they chased and passed Roger Maris' home run mark and erased the lasting sting left over from when a strike wiped out the 1994 season. His silence on Thursday put most baseball fans right back where we started. Forget asterisks. How about an eraser instead?

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Let The Sunshine In

In case you forgot to mark your calendars, we're in the midst of Sunshine Week. No, it's not a paean to the coming of spring, but a battle by top journalism organizations to stem the tide of government secrecy.
It's a movement all the more important as the White House and Bush administration chant a collective mantra of "no" or an indefinite "maybe, maybe not" to many a Freedom of Information Act request. Governments on the state and local levels have taken that as an open invitation to end accountability as we know it.
And though there have been some troubling surveys where an alarming percentage of people believe the press has run amok and that maybe some aspects of the First Amendment weren't such a good idea after all, a poll conducted for Sunshine Week found many people are still concerned when the government willfully clams up.
Though the week runs through Mar. 19, the Web site serves as a good year-round clearinghouse for open-government info and how the media is fighting back against officials who choose to duck and cover. Sadly, there is no shortage of material.
One example of why this week is sorely needed is highlighted by a bunch of articles in the Mar. 15 Journal News, which serves New York City's northern suburbs. Reporters fanned out to show how lame FOI compliance can be.

Friday, March 11, 2005

New Mexico Follies and Statehouse Reporters In Search Of A Living Wage

Having done some time in the press corps in the state capital in Albany, I've been witness to the silliness and outright stupidity that overtakes even the best-intentioned lawmakers. Those who toil in the statehouses often do it for little glory and even less money.
But that doesn't mean they should be excused for being lunkheads. They include those in the New Mexico House who last week voted to require newspapers to run death notices upon request. To prove there isn't much to do in Santa Fe during the winter, the measure was approved 40-15.
I'll spare you the screed about the First Amendment, yada yada. Still, it's scary to think somebody came up with this idea, another person drafted the bill, which made it through committee and somehow made it to a floor vote, where it passed by a landslide.
We can take some solace in the fact that Gov. Bill Richardson will in all likelihood veto this sucker hard should the Senate be foolhardy enough to send it to him. This is a guy who makes sure his velvet glove is good and snug before he cozies up to the media. The feeling is apparently mutual.
An article in the latest American Journalism Review revealed that Richardson has hired 21 local journalists to serve in various posts in his administration. While some said they were simply looking for a new challenge or better hours, nobody complained about the extra dough flowing into their checking accounts.
Of course, this is nothing new. When I was in Albany in the 1980s, many of my colleagues on the third floor of the capital in Albany had it pretty easy. Their papers mostly sent them there more out of a sense of obligation rather than because they were compelled by what actually happened in state government.
Journalism salaries being what they are, it isn't hard to lure reporters with a solid paycheck, better hours [unless you worked for Mario Cuomo] and not having your stories relegated to B-6. Pangs of regret by those who left for flackdom -- and there were dozens -- were virtually nil save for those who likely wondered why they didn't do it sooner.
Still, 21 reporters, editors and producers making an exodus to Santa Fe en masse is a bit striking, especially in a relatively small media market like New Mexico. And don't think newspapers and broadcasters will sit up and take notice and raise salaries, having been stung by this talent drain. There'll always be someone else to fill the jobs and for less money, at least until the next media-savvy governor comes along.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A Rather Dumb Stunt: CBS Affiliate Caught Dumping Dan

Most local stations now have online polls to let viewers weigh in on various topics, as if the average person really cares if their neighbor thinks Britney's latest marriage will last or if we as a nation should allow cloned cats.
These polls allow the empty vessels that are many news directors and station general managers show they are "in touch" with their community. Right.
Which brings us to the yabbos at WWTV/WWUP-TV, the CBS affiliates in northern Michigan, where a recent online poll asked viewers whether the stations should air last night's retrospective on Dan Rather's career. Usually, that decision is made by pressing a remote in the living room. But no, the stations wanted to play Kick The Anchor When He's Down.
It was a dunderheaded maneuver that forced William Kring, the stations' general manager went into backpedal mode online:

We offered our online poll concerning the airing of the Dan Rather special as a way to let our Northern Michigan viewers voice their opinion.
Unfortunately, this simple act of broadcasting localism has been grossly misinterpreted. We were simply trying to maintain the great tradition of local viewer input that is the foundation of our modern day broadcasting system. It was never our intent to embarrass Mr. Rather or the CBS Network.

Maybe it would be more instructive to find out how many viewers want to watch "Yes, Dear" or "Still Standing." Test patterns have been found to be more amusing.

You'll be glad to know Kring suspended the poll and the program aired in its entirety. And we can all breathe a sigh of relief now that the station has gone back to more serious issues in its polls. Today's query: "How soon would you like spring to arrive?"

Dan Rather Not Reporting


The signoff was largely and justly derided when Dan Rather first used it on a newscast early in his tenure as an anchor. But last night, it somehow worked.

"To our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in dangerous places. To those who have endured the tsunami and to all who have suffered natural disasters and who must now find the will to rebuild.
"To the oppressed and to those whose lot it is to struggle in financial hardship or in failing health. To my fellow journalists in places where reporting the truth means risking all.
"And to each of you. Courage."

It was a subdued valedictory. But then again, it was vintage Rather. It wasn't about him. It was all about the story. His enemies, who look under every rock for liberal media bias and no doubt felt Rather had been taunting them for over 30 years, had to be chastened.

To the end, Rather averted the spotlight from himself and his own troubles, and made a dignified exit. That came as no surprise to those who knew him and worked with him, as I did on occasion. The same goes for viewers of the CBS Evening News for the last 24 years, at least those who tuned in for the news and didn't parse words trying to decrypt secret messages from the liberal cabal.

If Rather went out on a high note, it was the network that stumbled at the end. Rather and other correspondents went through the first 20 minutes of the show as if nothing unusual was happening. But when he signed off, there was a wide shot of dozens of staffers converging for what would be a 10-minute standing ovation.

Instead, CBS cut away from the reverie for the nightly Wal-Mart promo before returning to the applause. One thinks CBS could have given the folks in Bentonville a make-good and would not have caught flack for letting the eight-second read slide for a night. This was not just another newscast. This was news.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Voices Of Summer Grow Faint

The passing of Baltimore Orioles announcer Chuck Thompson on Sunday meant that the true old guard of baseball broadcasting, those whose careers are older than most of their listeners, has shrunk to a precious few.

Herb Carneal, the original voice of the Minnesota Twins, and who worked five seasons with Thompson in Baltimore from 1957-62, will be spending his 50th year behind the mike at age 81. Carneal, who only works the first five innings of home games, has indicated this season will likely be the last.

Then the Los Angeles Dodgers have some guy named Vin Scully, who has managed to stick around painting the word pictures for 56 years. And even at age 78 and a reduced travel schedule, don't expect Scully to park himself on a fairway anytime soon. This 2003 interview with the Tribune-Review in suburban Pittsburgh doesn't sound like a man thinking about retirement.

I guess my body is my thermometer as far as interest in the game. I still get goose bumps when a good play is made. I still really feel the excitement. I think the day that I don't would be time to hang it up. It's been a long, endless love affair right up to this moment.

Millions of Dodgers fans across four generations feel the same.

Which brings us back to Chuck Thompson, as sure a Baltimore sports legend as Ripken or Unitas, both of whose exploits he chronicled for decades. The Sun carried five articles about his death yesterday to underscore just how much he meant to his adopted town. Even though he had left the booth in 2000, Baltimore is a city that doesn't forget its friends and in Thompson they found nobody more loyal.

Thompson could be an expert, no-nonsense storyteller and every bit the homer as well, although that's something fans in most cities don't seem to mind even if TV sports columnists do. Unlike Harry Caray, who could be his team's top booster and venemous critic at the same time, seldom was heard a discouraging word from Thompson, as these clips from Orioles flagship WBAL can attest:

Even if Thompson's legacy is burnished with the patina of excess nostalgia, so what? Looking back allows you to slip back into a moment in time when basebal l was different somehow, more accessible, more innocent, more fun. And Chuck Thompson was a part of all of those moments.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Weekly Read Out--A Tarnished Sea Biscuit, a Bitchy Bachelorette and The Airlines' Airlies

Far be it for New York Daily News columnist Vic Ziegel to tarnish the legend that is Sea Biscuit. But his greatest triumph may not have been all that it appeared to be.
New York Times TV critic Virginia Heffernan is at her best skewering the worst offenders in TV Land. Which means she has a lot of material to work with. She generously dipped into her supply of venom to slap around The Bachelorette.
Joe Brancatelli is one of the most wise and wizened scribes when it comes to business travels and the many follies perpetrated on us by the airlines. Always an entertaining and informative read, Brancatelli turns away from the airport and back to the newsrooms where he finds a dreadful shortage of reporters holding the airlines accountable for their many misdeeds. The truth squad is either on holiday or stuck on an airport security line.
In his latest column, he takes on the media for falling woefully short