Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Op-Ed Rumble At The Times; Krugman vs. Okrent In a Public Public Editor's Tiff


This could get interesting.
In Sunday's Letters to the Editor in The New York Times, the final letter came from none other than Paul Krugman, who objected to getting less-than-star treatment in Daniel Okrent's final column as public editor.
Okrent accused Krugman of selectively using stats to bolster his argument in his Bush-bashing column that is ostensibly about economics but has come to mean something much more in stridently liberal precincts.
Krugman called the criticisms "simply wrong" and wrapped up by proclaiming "This should be the end of the story."
But it's not.
An editor's note at the bottom promised Okrent and Krugman will be going at it again on new public editor Barney Calame's blog later in the week, www.nytimes.com/byroncalame.
It's not the nature of the Times to have feuding columnists air out their spats in public. It conjured a whiff of nostalgia to the Village Voice of the 1970s, when columnists and writers would regularly snipe at each other or their employer in the letters page rather than yell at each other in the office.
It was alternately sad or amusing to see the likes of Howard Smith, Nat Hentoff and Richard Goldstein get all in a huff over some calamity (Robert Christgau only gave the new Pere Ubu album a B-minus? Horrors!) while those who may have actually paid for the Voice -- back when such a thing was mandated -- were allocated less space to rant.
You felt like shouting at them "Take it outside, guys." Which is pretty much the purpose a blog serves nowadays. Which will make the Okrent-Krugman steel-cage smackdown a must-read.


Here's the link to the online slapfight:

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Not Such A Grand Old Flag At The Detroit Free Press

Go to the Detroit Free Press Web site and click under ethics policy. The first line nobly proclaims: "Credibility is the franchise of journalism."
Darn right.
Yet, while the missives set forth in the ethics policy are obviously devoted more to newsgathering, those five words also apply to the newspaper itself, whose publisher and editor Carole Leigh Hutton conveniently forgot them.
How else to explain yesterday's front page that largely contained a flag. What may have been initially viewed as a Memorial Day tribute was actually an advertisement for Marshall Field's.
Not to be outdone, the Detroit News, which has a joint operating agreement with the Freep, went even further with its version of the ad and labeled what would usually be the front page A-3.
But given the recent fiasco with Mitch Albom fabricating events in a column last month and getting nothing more than a slap on the wrist from his bosses, the Freep newsroom is looking at a steep optometrist's bill with all the eye rolling that must be going on.
I'll at least give the Freep credit for running letters lambasting this lunkheaded decision to desecrate the front page.
If similar objections were raised at the News, it's not apparent from the letters posted on the Web site this morning. Maybe the editors are too busy shopping at Marshall Field's.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Sid Rosenberg's Heat Too Hot For Imus -- Morning Drive Attack Dog Muzzled

The usually reliable New York Radio Message Board is reporting that Sid Rosenberg has been banished for good from "Imus in the Morning" after making a crack about Kylie Minogue's breast cancer that stepped over the line, even by that show's low standards.
No word yet whether it was the I-Man who showed the Sidster the wrong end of one of his cowboy boots, or whether the suits at WFAN, or MSNBC, which simulcasts Imus, were tired of rolling their eyes and making excuses for his malicious malingering at the mike.
Rosenberg will still be co-hosting his regular midday sports talkfest on the FAN, though he reportedly makes most of his radio dough from the Imus gig. All of a sudden tumors aren't so funny anymore, right Sid?
New York Daily News
New York Post

Monday, May 23, 2005

WFAN Looks Like It May Shut Up Sid Rosenberg For Good


As we noted last week, it's one thing to be a radio bad boy. It's another thing to simply be a schmuck. Sid Rosenberg is a schmuck.
The sports guy on the "Imus in the Morning" show made a crack last week about what Kylie Minogue would look like after breast-cancer surgery, as part of his attack-dog routine. In the process, he crossed the line from being merely outrageous to full-out disgusting, all the more galling as he makes most of his living being on a show whose host runs a camp for kids with cancer.
Since then, the bosses at WFAN have pulled Rosenberg from Imus, though he continues to co-host his regular midday sports talk show with Joe Benigno.
The Sidiot -- as the New York Daily News' Bob Raissman is fond of calling him -- is trying to make nice, by being contrite on the air, donating a week's salary to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and doing everything but wearing sackcloth in public to show he's just a recovering drug addict and alcoholic who makes a living saying dumb things and deserves a fourth and fifth chance at redemption.
No word, though, on whether that'll be enough to get him back in morning drive, even though WFAN may not want to tinker with talent -- and we use that term advisedly -- who helped it bill $52.5 million, the fourth-highest in the New York market.
But even if Rosenberg does get back with the I-man it'll be only a matter of time before we start gagging on his gags once again. This could be the right time to get rid of Sid.

Suzanne Malveaux: White House Correspondent Turned Drama Queen

Much of Suzanne Malveaux's face time on CNN is spent doing stand-ups on the White House lawn parroting whatever a "senior Bush administration official" is peddling that day, or the day before, as she's often working weekends.
But she was actually liberated from Pennsylvania Avenue to cover Laura Bush's Mideast trip. Good for her. Until she blew it. On a report I caught early this morning, Malveaux wanted more than just the spotlight. She craved being a part of the story herself.
The report in questions was about some ostensibly tense moments when the First Lady entered the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem to pay her respects at the Muslim holy shrine. Malveaux went in with her, head scarf and all.
There were a few protesters nearby as they were ushered in, but between the Secret Service and Israeli security, nobody was getting near. Still, Malveaux breathlessly worded a report as if she was about to be branded an infidel and have her limbs ripped asunder. She unforgivably slipped into the first person twice while recounting events.
A pleasant encounter? Hardly. But even CNN's cameras had trouble mustering images of more than a few Muslim protesters. Malveaux's dispatch made it seem like Mrs. Bush was in danger, which was never close to being the case given the numerous guys with earpieces and automatic weapons.
There were louder protests from Jews when the First Lady visited the Western Wall, but Malveaux gave them shorter shrift. Maybe it was because she didn't have to wear a head scarf, just like when she's back on the White House lawn.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

What A Dick

It's always interesting to see how the AP approaches stories like this. In this case, it was right down the middle, without having to resort to euphemisms. Not that you really need any in a case like this.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Outrageous Radio Funny Man or Garden Variety Douchebag?


As the sports guy on Imus In The Morning, Sid Rosenberg knows he's paid to be outrageous. He called George Steinbrenner a "fat pussy" and Venus Williams an "animal," remarks that got him fired and then rehired (For a full version of that witless exchange, go to http://www.tompaine.com/feature2.cfm/ID/4389/view/print.
OK, so he's a stooge for Imus, which means he's supposed to be edgy and out for blood. Of course, that could be accomplished with some semblance of taste. But then again, we're talking about Sid Rosenberg.
In riffing on Kylie Minogue's announcement that she had breast cancer, he proclaimed: "She won't be so pretty when she's bald with one titty!"
[Cue laugh track].
Yes, it's a free country. No, you don't have to listen. And as one poster on the New York Radio Message Board cogently observed, Rosenberg should be pitied not pilloried, in part for being a heartless prick, for thinking that somebody would find this funny, and for being devoid of empathy. Laugh to keep from crying? You need material to laugh at first.
Rosenberg returned to the airwaves last month after spending a month in rehab trying to clean up problems with crack addiction, booze and gambling. Looks like he got out too soon.

"60 Minutes" Stops Ticking On Wednesday


It shouldn't come as a shock when a show is canceled when it has more viewers who familiar with Geritol than Gerber's. But when it's "60 Minutes Wednesday" that gets canned, it should send a shudder through anybody who's ever worked in a broadcast newsroom.
CBS head honcho Les Moonves says it's all about the ratings, not the content. If you can't get enough affluent 18-49s to watch, your program's a goner. Indeed, "60W" may have been a victim of CBS's success.
"The reality of the current television marketplace is that as CBS has become increasingly strong every night of the week over the past few years, the bar for inclusion on the Network's primetime schedule has been set higher and higher," CBS News prez Andrew Heyward penned in a memo to news division employees today.
In other words, it doesn't matter if your show was a reliable bastion of high-quality storytelling, no matter the occasional stumbles such as the botched story on President Bush's National Guard service that hastened Dan Rather's exit from the Evening News anchor chair. Still, even that was not a factor in "60W's" fate, if Moonves is to be believed.
CBS was no longer content to treat "60W" as a high-quality placeholder while the network had its clock cleaned by "American Idol" and "Lost."
That may be sound business decision, but do you mean to tell me that a place can't be found on the schedule for a program that has consistently delivered and won as many awards (two DuPonts, four Peabodys and 10 Emmys) as "60W?" Given time, the junior edition could have been retooled to focus on topics perceived as more ratings-friendly, without having to descend to the depths of a "Dateline" or "20/20." In other words deliver the steak and sizzle.
Heyward delivered one consolation prize -- that CBS has approved some "60 Minutes" primetime specials. But most of the existing staff won't be around for that. Today, according to a source there, they held a long meeting, punctuated by tears and hugs -- some of them coming from Rather.
The CBS eye becomes ever more bloodshot. As those who work in the business are constantly reminded, just being good isn't good enough.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Putting Some Pith In The Sith

NY Times chief movie critic A.O. Scott found a clever and not-too-cute way to assess the latest and last entry in the "Star Wars" saga:

Would my grown-up longing for a return to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my own moviegoing boyhood - and my undiminished hunger for entertainment with sweep and power as well as noise and dazzle - be satisfied by "Revenge of the Sith"?
The answer is yeth.


Two thumbs up, A.O.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The Lights Go Out on John Simon at New York magazine


When John Simon started his 37-year run as New York magazine's acidic theatre critic, Jeremy McCarter was a long way off from making his debut.
But now Simon's being pushed off the masthead to make way for the New York Sun theatre critic. All of 28, McCarter gets his chance to play on a bigger stage with his writing than his current perch at the conservative five-day-a-week daily that continues to amaze its critics by its continued existence.
Similar sentiments have been expressed about the tart-tongued Simon, never shy about spewing his venom at many a hapless actor, one of whom once dumped soup on Simon's head.
New York magazine editor Adam Moss, perhaps to make nice with Broadway or maybe just wanting his own guy on the aisle, fired the 79-year-old Simon, whose profile had grown more slight ever since Moss came over last year from The New York Times Magazine.

At times it was something of an event when Simon actually liked a production. Usually, though, he lobbed grenades toward the proscenium. When deserved, he could be wickedly funny. From a recent review of the revival of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" it was Kathleen Turner's turn to be raked over the coals:

She has a voice like a baritone sax issuing from an oil drum, and hams even with her silences. Your standard-issue college president’s daughter can only aspire to being such a foulmouthed fishwife, and no younger history teacher, however hell-bent on climbing the academic ladder, would have married this anti-sexual, castrating slattern.

But how do you really feel John?

In all fairness, something often in short supply in a Simon review, he could do more than muster enthusiasm for a show that met his approval. He could turn into a press agent's dream. Simon kept falling over himself conjuring up adjectives only he'd use in praise of a Lincoln Center production of Henry IV.

And how thaumaturgically Jack O’Brien has directed! Everywhere you attend there are masterly touches, ranging from the microscopic to the all-encompassing, such as you have never seen before, could not have imagined, and are magically caught up in.

Maybe Moss got tired of looking up words like thaumaturgically, the adverb form of thaumaturgy -- the working of miracles or magic feats (no, I didn't know what it meant either).

Suffice to say, McCarter, regardless of whatever enthusiasm, erudition or wit he brings to the job -- will have the Maestro of Mean's shadow hovering over him for some time to come. For now, you can still read Simon's archived reviews at www.nymetro.com.
If you want to see what to expect from McCarter, you'll have to subscribe. The always-slim Sun is parsimonious handing out freebies at www.nysun.com.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

They Could Never Get Away With A Lead Like This At The "Times"

The New York Post has many deficiencies as a newspaper. But at least it's never boring. And occasionally, it lets its outlaw self leave you laughing instead of rolling your eyes.

An example is the Friday lead on the runaway bride story:

May 6, 2005 -- Bolting bride Jennifer Wilbanks was chaste away — by her fiancĂ©'s insistence on abstinence, friends of the sex-deprived couple claim.

And the Post has not let its location stand in the way of trying to own this story. Witness today's dispatch, which told of how Jennifer Wilbanks ditched another fiance eight years ago.

In comparison the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was content today to rehash, preferring a voluminous article that offered little or nothing in the way of new information -- hardly a way for the top metro paper in the area to bigfoot a story.

Meantime, this story fell below the fold in the hometown Gwinnett Daily Post, with a ho-hummer about whether the Duluth City Council will hit Wilbanks for the tab for her search.

Good Night And Have A Pleasant Tomorrow: Remembering Herb Sargent

It was nice to see Tina Fey last night pay tribute to Herb Sargent during "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live." After all, it was Sargent who was the writer/producer mainly in charge of "Update" during the 20 years he spent at "SNL" as the eminece grise among all the comedy newbies who learned at the feet of one of the masters.
As prolific and just plain damn funny as he was, Sargent attended to more sobering matters as the president for the last 14 years of the Writers Guild of America East, where I had the chance to meet him in 1999 when I was on a WGA committee negotiating a new contract with CBS News. He stopped by to offer us encouragement and a few jokes.
Despite his stature, Sargent was never above it all. He was one of us, even though he was more talented than most of us.
It was disappointing to say the least that The New York Times, in its obit today, chose to ignore this part of his life.
It was nice, in un-Timesian fashion, to have fleshed out the obit with what were fresh quotes from Lorne Michaels and Al Franken. That may have been the case of not having much in the can and having to start from scratch, instead of dusting out some chestnut written a decade before with generic biographical information.
But for a man who dedicated so much time to making sure writers got the proper respect at networks and in Hollywood, his WGA legacy deserved at least a line or two.
Those who knew him or who benefited from his leadership and dedication, won't forget him anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Revisiting The Legacy Of Ernie Pyle 60 Years Later

By all accounts, Ernie Pyle acted, felt and wrote like an Everyman, which is what made his dispatches from America and World War II battlefield so compelling for millions of readers. Cut down by a Japanese sniper's bullet on April 19, 1945, his legend and legacy were polished in the ensuing decades and hardly diminished over the years.
As proof, he's part of a frightfully small fraternity of journalists who adorn a postage stamp.
Pyle's just-folks approach is remembered fondly in Dana, Indiana, near where Pyle grew up. It's home to the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site, that's as much a homage as history lesson. Charles Howard, writing for Scripps-Howard News Service, tells why it's worth the trip.
By the way, Pyle roamed the world for Scripps Howard, and he was nothing, if not prolific, says Chuck Woodbury. http://www.outwestnewspaper.com/erniepyle.html. In fact, Pyle cranked out a column six days a week from wherever he was. Sometimes that was Albuquerque, home to the Ernie Pyle Memorial Library, housed in the only home he ever owned. The public Pyle never betrayed a troubled private life, marked by his alcoholism and a wife who twice tried to kill herself.
On the 50th anniversary of Pyle's death David Andrews in Stars and Stripes Pacific, wrote about how Pyle would likely wash out of the modern newsroom, identifying perhaps too closely with the troops, often forgetting to identify a soldier and at times being overly provincial or sentimental. Yet it was also that style that brought the war a little closer to home for millions. http://www.toad.net/~andrews/pyle.htmlWith one simple sentence about the death of an Army captain, Pyle erased any illusions about the glory of war.
"You feel small in the presence of dead men, and ashamed at being alive, and you don't ask silly questions."
It was such dispatches that elevated Pyle to a media superstardom as bright as any network anchor could aspire to then and now. Rare is the correspondent whose death would be felt by so many, so deeply (the untimely passing of David Bloom in Iraq comes close albeit for different reasons).
As James Tobin noted in his 1998 book "Ernie Pyle's War":

The bulletin went via radio to a ship nearby, then to the United States and on to Europe. Radio picked it up. Reporters rushed to gather comment. In Germany General Omar Bradley heard the news and could not speak. In Italy General Mark Clark said, "He helped our soldiers to victory." Bill Mauldin, the young soldier-cartoonist whose warworn G.I.'s matched the pictures Pyle had drawn with words, said, "The only difference between Ernie's death and that of any other good guy is that the other guy is mourned by his company. Ernie is mourned by the Army."

It's hard to imagine too many Pentagon higher-ups getting worked up over the death of a reporter today.
Pyle famously wrote: "War makes strange giant creatures out of us little routine men who inhabit the earth."
Fortunately for us, there was nothing routine about Ernie Pyle.

Monday, May 02, 2005

From Rehab Into the Arms of Dr. Phil: Pat O'Brien's Sweeps Shock Therapy


Since we still haven't moved to a 52-week TV season and ad buyers still look to sweeps to justify ponying up billions to the networks, a prime-time special on Wednesday where Dr. Phil interviews "The Insider" co-host Pat O'Brien about his stint in rehab for being a drunk and about some salacious voice mails he left appears to be a no-brainer.
But that can't be viewed as good news in the BMW Building on West 57th St., where "60 Minutes Wednesday" is bunkered.
The show is not exactly a ratings darling, going up against "Lost" and "American Idol." It also attracts some of the oldest demographics of any prime-time show, which translates into lower spot rates.
CBS head honcho Les Moonves hasn't decreed the program's fate yet. But the silence is getting increasingly deafening, and he may be off in some back room burnishing his machete. Keeping it off for a week during sweeps doesn't exactly help 60W's chances. Or does it?
60W can rise to the occasion for three weeks of its top-shelf material and make its case for survival. At this juncture, CBS may be looking for nothing more than a respectable showing, and some evidence that at least a few people ineligible for Medicare are tuning in.
Or, it could be a ratings Catch 22 to set 60W up for a fall. I can see it now. The show was canceled because it didn't get enough ratings. But it wasn't on enough to get ratings in the first place.
Of course, it doesn't make sense. You'd think that 60W would be eminently capable of interviewing Viacom-mate O'Brien without having to involve Dr. Phil, who just happens to be, like O'Brien, under contract to Paramount Television. But somehow I don't see Scott Pelley or Vicki Mabrey being inclined to give O'Brien some tough love and make him cry.
And, of course, they don't have a syndicated daytime show named after them on which, not coincidentally, O'Brien will make another appearance, this time with guests to discuss rehab.
Now it makes perfect sense.

He's Baaaack! But Is Mitch Albom Really Sorry?


His Royal Albomness finally re-emerged over the weekend, after being exiled by the Detroit Free Press while it conducted its "investigation" of last month's column, where he wrote about an event that never happened to meet a deadline for an early Sunday edition.

The latest column was a mixture of forgiveness and giving the finger to his many critics, while nonetheless offering to turn the other cheek. Thanks, St. Mitch, you are so the man. If you missed his missive, let's deconstruct the most salient portions to see what he said and what he really meant.

The last three weeks have been the darkest yet most enlightening of my professional life. The dark part is obvious. I made a careless mistake in a column. It wasn't malicious. It didn't harm the subjects. But it was factually incorrect in four paragraphs. I assumed something would happen that didn't. That was wrong.

So far, so good. But wait.

I apologized to my bosses. We were going to run a correction. Then we decided to go further. I apologized on the front page of the sports section, something unprecedented, but indicative that we took it seriously.

The April 7 mea culpa was actually a three-paragraph note, in which Albom did use the word "apology," but spent most of the rest of his space rationalizing how he screwed up and offered his early deadline as one excuse for a mistake most cub reporters know not to make.

And then, as Dick Enberg says, "Oh my!"
A volcano erupted. An explosion that mixed the criticism I deserved with a lava flow of anger, hate, self-righteousness and people who once called themselves friends preferring to act as my judge and jury.

I went from sorry, to shocked, to saddened, to silent. I didn't want to lash out. I felt terrible for the mistake, terrible that my newspaper had to take heat, terrible that my editors were besieged.

Is this where we're supposed to be grateful to Albom for not lashing out? What snappy retort would we be treated to?
"Hey, I sacrificed my credbility and that of my newspaper by writing a column that turned out to be fiction? But so what? I'm filthy, stinkin' rich and Oprah returns my calls. I won't be meeting you in Heaven, sucka!"
Albom is no dummy. He kept his mouth shut because the wagons kept on circling ever tighter and there was still no guarantee the Free Press would take him back, though in hindsight that was a no-brainer given Albom's marquee value, something in short supply at the Freep.

Time passed. Lumps were taken. And people moved on. I have been slow to return to this column because a lot has been said and done, and a lot seems changed. The boundless joy I always felt for this newspaper business has been socked in the stomach.

Now you know how we feel.

If I ever needed a humbling reminder to slow down, something I've struggled with for years, here was that lesson again. That column was filed in a hurry on a day when I wrote another column right after it. Too fast. Too dangerous.

Don't forget, he also does a radio show, appears on TV and writes books. A column is very tempting to turn into an afterthought. Slow down? Don't count on it. The money's too good. And what a crushing blow Albom would deal to his ego if he admitted that maybe he really can't do it all.

And if I ever needed to learn the stinging irony of this business, I've had my chance. In the race to report on my journalistic error, you could barely count the mistakes and falsehoods that were committed. From a TV station that called me a Pulitzer Prize winner (I'm not) to a major sports magazine that chastised my column on two players who weren't at the Final Four, then got it wrong by saying I wasn't at the Final Four.

This is Albom's way of saying, "I know you are, but what am I?" Falsehoods? Please. That's a word you see in briefs filed for a libel suit. Grow up.

So it might be easy to go from sorry to screaming. Hate people back. But to what end? Having asked for forgiveness myself, I can do no less than give it.
So I will not swipe at those who swiped at me. It was my mistake. I'll own up to it. Besides, in 20 years of doing this column, I have never written for those people.
I write for you.

Some have argued that Albom doesn't fall into Jayson Blair and Janet Cooke territory because he didn't willfully fabricate an event -- that he wrote about something that was supposed to happen, but never came off for various reasons.
But it was still dumb, reckless and toying with one of the few tangible commodities a newspaper has with its readers -- telling the truth. You take it on faith that when a columnist writes about two Michigan State alumni at the Final Four to root on their school, their fannies were in the seats doing just that. But when they were not, and Albom indicates otherwise, how seriously can you take him as a columnist, or the newspaper that continues to employ him?
Every journalist has made a mistake here or there. Fortunately, most don't rise to a firing offense, which is what printing fiction in a column would be for anyone with the less-exalted status that Albom enjoys.

I know there are kids who read this newspaper. I know there are kids who read my column. Some teachers even use it in schools.
Well, you kids need to know that what I did was a mistake. It was careless, and you should learn from it. Be better than I was on that day. Know that you can't assume something is going to happen, even a sunrise, because the one time you write it as if it happened, the sun might not rise. Nobody's perfect. But that doesn't mean you don't try. And if you mess up, say you're sorry, as I am saying again here.

Quick! Call the podiatrist. There's a columnist in Detroit who requires a foot extraction from his mouth. Albom shouldn't have to write a smug journalistic primer like above. It was something so simple, so basic, yet it was expedient to simply hope what he wrote about would go down. After all, he's Mitch Albom! What could possibly go wrong?

The sermon concluded thus:

And know this: Just as you can't assume the future, you also can't assume human nature. It won't always be kind. It won't always be fair or friendly. But if you want to grow into good, balanced journalists, the thing you should most remember is the thing that was most forgotten these last few weeks:
Protect it. Cherish it. And you -- and I -- with God's grace, will be fine.

Words to live by. We'll see if he has that perspective if he ever feels tempted to question the manhood of some middle linebacker who missed a crucial tackle.
Kids, here's a better lesson: Take those last few paragraphs to heart. Just ignore who wrote them, as the author has a long way to go to figure out what they really mean.