Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Orville Redenbacher Back From The Dead

Posthumous Popcorn Push
Is it just me, or are you a little weirded out from the 30-year-old spots that have been running recently with Orville Redenbacher shilling the popcorn that bears his name.
After all, Orville went to the big kettle in the sky in 1995 at age 88 when he had a heart attack and drowned in his bathtub, which was probably one of the few places where he didn't wear his trademark bowtie.
That bowtie and the straight talk from the man from Valparaiso, Indiana, helped propel the brand to be one of the top popcorn sellers. Which may be the reason ConAgra is trotting this spot out again.
Few had as much passion for popcorn as Orville did, and few since, apparently. I guess you go with the guy who brung ya. So what if he's dead. That doesn't mean he still can't talk to us, and inspire us to go buy more popcorn to boot.
See for yourself.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

"Good Morning America" Gets Interesting Enron Trial Forecast From Former Employee

From the mouths of a scorned Enron employee, this pearl....
In the midst of the coverage of Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, "Good Morning America" took time out for a Mike von Fremd package setting up tomorrow's beginning of the Enron trial, followed by a live interview with Charles Prestwood, who lost $1.3 million in savings when the former energy giant imploded.
Asked by Kate Snow whether he thought Ken Lay and Richard Skilling were guilty, Prestwood mustered a rather unique perspective, or so we hope.
"The Jews would have an easier time believing the Holocaust never happened than convincing me that Ken Lay was innocent."
Which, to her credit, Snow had absolutely nothing to add.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

NBC Debunks And Perpetuates Shuttle Myths At Same Time

MSNBC.com put out a fascinating report yesterday from NBC space analyst James Oberg that debunked seven lingering myths about the Challenger shuttle explosion, which happened 20 years ago today.
Chief among them: The nation watched as the tragedy unfolded. That was true only if you were part of the sliver of the nation watching CNN that day. The other networks had cut away, as Oberg reminds us, and had to replay the explosion ad nauseum during the wall-to-wall coverage that ensued.
If only Janet Shamlian had bothered to read his article. This morning on "Today," Shamlian was doing a live shot from Cape Canaveral, where a memorial service is set to remember the seven astronauts who perished.
But in the set-up to a taped piece on Christa McAuliffe's family, Shamlian repeated the now-discredited mantra that the "nation was watching" that day.
Nice that Oberg provides some context to the tragedy. Not nice that Shamlian overlooked a crucial point.
By the way, on the MSNBC Web site there's video of an interview with NASA Administrator Michael Griffin by Tom Costello. It's interesting, in part, because they put up the raw tape, warts and all. In the beginning, the interview is momentarily halted when Costello's cell phone goes off.
Watching this tape is also a useful exercise for journalism students, to get insight into the process of editing a news package, and see what news crews have to deal with to find one or two quickie sound bites out of a 24-minute interview.
You're looking for the money quotes, but because you only have limited air time, lots of good stuff doesn't make the cut, which is why it's nice that NBC and other networks are giving us additional windows to view the fruits of their labor.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Too Horrible To Contemplate: Larry King Sex Games

It should be a surprise to no one that Howard Stern's newfound liberation on Sirius Satellite Radio has had a similarly salutary effect on his guests, who have no problem spilling the beans on their bedroom proclivities.
Last week, Shawn Southwick dished on husband Larry King's sex games, which include, an Indian costume, Kemosabe.
That was followed a few days later by Sirius colleague Alexis Stewart confirming a rumor that she bedded a cameraman from her mommy's failed version of "The Apprentice," but denied another report she had a lesbian experience.
Alas, no Indian costumes in this girl's future. She's actually working on getting artificially inseminated.

Nan Talese Still Doesn't Get It

Editor In Middle Of Frey Fray Has Trouble Discerning Fact From Fiction

In the myriad of stories written about James Frey and the many fabrications that are at the heart of "A Million Little Pieces," publisher Nan Talese is often mentioned, usually with such words as "esteemed," "respected" and "veteran." After yesterday's appearance on Oprah, add "clueless" to the pile.
As this space has previously mentioned, Talese has been adamant in insisting memoirs should be held to a different standard than autobiography, rationalizing that a memoir is an author's impression of what happened and shouldn't be held to the same rigorous standards of other nonfiction genres.
Fortunately, hers is the minority viewpoint, but that short-sightedness is what had her bobbing and weaving on Oprah after the talk-show titan turned Frey into a pathetic globule of Jell-O after he fessed up to embellishing or downright fabricating the most compelling parts of his tale of addiction and redemption.
Talese offered a lame analogy of when she was helping Rosalynn Carter with her memoir, and her ex-prez husband disputed the recounting of a certain event.
As Talese told it, Rosalynn retorted, "Now Jimmy, you can remember it your way and I'll remember it mine!"
So there.
Only thing is, the firestorm over "A Little Million Pieces" isn't a dispute of Frey writing there was a clear blue sky when there were a few high clouds. In much of the book Frey wasn't recounting events so much as making them up or wishing they happened another way.
Girlfriend Lilly hung herself? Um, no, she slit her wrists. Months spent in jail? Yeah, about that, it was only a few hours. Given Talese's reasoning, that's OK, it's how Frey remembers it. So what if it has no basis in reality?
Apparently, Random House, the parent of Talese's imprint, realizes that's a laughable even dangerous position and soft-pedaled an apology in a written statement that reads in part:

[I]t is not the policy or stance of this company that it doesn’t atter whether a book sold as nonfiction is true. A nonfiction book should adhere to the facts as the author knows them.

But first, Nan, they must be facts. Much of "A Million Little Pieces" is lacking in that crucial ingredient.
Which is why you'll see notes from the publisher and Frey in future editions of the book explaining just what you should and should not believe. Sort of like a Cliff's Notes to the truth.
Random House is also conveniently sending copies of the note to bookstores to insert in the copies they have now.
It's a note that Talese, once she gets out of denial, should commit to memory.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Freygate: Blame The Fact-Checkers. Oh, Wait, We Don't Have Any

Passing The Buck on "Million Little Pieces" Debacle To Someone Not There
The AP story on James Frey fessing up about the now-discredited "A Million Little Pieces" has Nan Talese offering what might be a startling excuse for Frey's deceptions, namely that no one bothered to check whether his book was true before Random House sent it to the printer.

Talese, an industry veteran whose many authors have included Ian McEwan, George Plimpton and Thomas Cahill, told Winfrey that editors who saw the book raised no questions and that "A Million Pieces" received a legal vetting. She acknowledged that the book had not been fact-checked, something many publishers say they have little time to do, but that future editions would include an author's note saying parts of the book "had been changed."

Talese had told Oprah's people Frey was on the up and up when questions about the book were raised before the Queen Of All Media gave it her unqualified blessing.
Good luck to Random House in ever getting one of their titles on Oprah's Book Club again.

What's telling -- or disingenuous, as the case may be -- is a quote in the story from Ashbel Green, a senior editor at Knopf.

"But this question of fact checking is a complicated one. At The New Yorker and Time and Newsweek, you have experienced people who know where to go and what's right and what's wrong. We don't. There's been a traditional dependency on the author."

Say what? As long as the lawyers deem it's not libelous you can put anything and everything in a supposed memoir and the publisher will give you a free pass, is what Green is essentially uttering. Very scary indeed.
And if publishers don't have experienced fact-checkers, can't they go out and get some when the situation demands. But then that would cost money, wouldn't it? Even worse, it could ruin a really great story.

Frey Fried By Oprah

Not To Say I Told You So, But.....
The most powerful woman in America now has to spend the next week or so wiping egg off her face.
Same goes for his editor, Nan Talese, who had previously stated that a memoir didn't have to be totally fact-based. As long as the author says he remembered it that way, well, then, by golly, that was good enough for her. So what if it isn't true?
The good part for James Frey: "A Million Little Pieces" will still be a great Lifetime movie of the week, though that "Based on true events" tag might have to go.

No Gay Sex, Please, We're British

UK National Media So Far Play It Straight In Reporting On Outed MPs
The big news on the other side of the pond is that a contender to lead the Liberal Democrats, Britain's number-three party, confessed to having gay sex and patronizing a gay phone sex line.
Simon Hughes told The Sun he regretted staying in the closet for so long, but noted “I have always taken the view that somebody’s sexuality should not be of great significance in the public domain. It is a private matter."
Which means Hughes obviously doesn't read The Sun. And if he does, we're pretty confident he's skipping over the amply endowed lassies on Page 3.
At first blush, it seems unusual that Hughes would fess up to The Sun, Rupert Murdoch's staunch right-wing tabloid king that never refrains from using its clout as Britain's top-circulating daily to take down a notch or three those who displease it.
After all, above today's headline "I'm Gay Too" was the smaller head: "A Second Limp Dem Confesses." That could be a reference to the Lib Dem's bloody awful start to 2006 (another Lib Dem leader stepped down last week after the married father of two admitted to hanging with a male prostitute), or something else for which we needn't draw you a map.
The BBC shed light on Hughes's motives, quoting a Sun editor who said Hughes was given "pretty incontrovertible" evidence he had phoned the chat room. So, it was a case of talk to us now and do some damage control, or we'll turn you into our Poof Of The Week and make you squeal like a pig.
So far, the British media we sampled have refrained from lavender-scented hysteria. At least for now. That could change. Perhaps inadvertently -- or defensively -- Hughes gave the Sun and the rest of the tabs cause to fine-tune their Gaydar when he claimed he wasn't the only member of Parliament hiding in the closet.
“I wasn’t just doing it for me but for many others who are in the same boat.”
Yeah, I'm sure they appreciate that gesture. You know The Sun did.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

WB, UPN To Fade To Black; CW Rises From The Ashes As New Media Marriage is Arranged

And Then There Were Five
Big news from the broadcast TV front as CBS and Warner Bros. link up to form the CW, a new fifth network, which means old number five and six, the WB and UPN are history as of the fall.
As the dust is still settling, no time like the present to take a look at some of the winners and losers in this link-up:
--The 16 major-market stations owned by Tribune, (including WPIX in New York and WGN in Chicago) who are now WB affiliates, and the 12 UPN stations owned by CBS. Both networks were often ratings-challenged, which also affected local newscasts. Fewer networks will inevitably mean fewer eyeballs will go wandering for similar programs.
--Shareholders of CBS, Tribune and Time Warner. None of these stocks have been a Wall Street darling, but less brutal competition and overhead can only be a good thing.
--Rupert Murdoch. The Foxy One owns the UPN station in New York, which will now have to fill prime time with....fill in the blank. Before UPN and Rupe came along, Channel 9 was little more than an afterthought, but was known for being the TV home of most local sports teams. But now that cable has locked most teams away, that option has all but vanished.
--WB and UPN affiliates in smaller markets. Outside of the 28 cities where Tribune and CBS own stations, uncertainty abounds. The CW announcement says the network will choose which affiliates to bring on board. Which leaves stations in smaller markets in a serious bind. It's conceivable some could sign off or become full-time infomercial or religious broadcasters if they lose the cachet and commercials network programming can reel in.
--Actors and writers. Even factoring in reality shows and "Smackdown", UPN and WB still run dramas and sitcoms that people actually watch, like "Gilmore Girls," "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Smallville." But now they all have to squeeze onto one channel, which means the door to something new gets closed a little bit tighter.

Bottom line: Never the shrinking violet, Les Moonves was obviously looking for a bold move now that CBS has been unshackled from the Viacom mothership. He also apparently tired of habitually jumping to the bottom of the Nielsens to see how poorly most UPN shows were faring. Not that the WB was doing all that much better in terms of sheer numbers, though "Smallville" and "Gilmore Girls," among others, have brought in some nice coin from the 18-49 demo advertisers drool over most. And that's what this really is all about. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em, and then we'll worry about how to kick the crap out of Fox.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Trying To Cover Iraq With Others Covering For You

An Unfortunate Fact Of Life For Reporters In And Out Of The Green Zone
Even before Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll was kidnapped, journalists stationed in Baghdad never had to be reminded of how dangerous their beat was.
Which means many reporters are confined to their compound if they're outside the Green Zone, or have to take extraordinary precautions if they dare venture out.
More commonly, they rely on Iraqi staffers to pick up their slack and do the field reporting that is too hazardous for even the most intrepid souls. Many print outlets give these brave Iraqis due credit for assisting in gathering their stories.
No such props are awarded on TV, so it was refreshing that NPR gave credit where credit was due for an intriguing piece by Lourdes Garcia-Navarro on whether Iraqis fear there will be civil war. Initially, I was fearful that she ventured outside , which is hardly recommended while Carroll remains captive.
But at the end, two Iraqis who work at the NPR Baghdad bureau were also cited at the end of the report. Which meant Garcia-Navarro stayed out of harm's way and was able to focus on crafting a slice of life too rarely heard amid reports of suicide bomb, ethnic strife and political infighting.
Covering the day-to-day miasma in Iraq is hard enough. Which makes such dispatches all the more remarkable.

Josiah, We Hardly Knew Ye: West Wing Wrung

NBC Finally Pulls Plug On White House Potboiler While Bestowing Blessing On "Earl," "Office."
To no one's surprise, NBC made it official yesterday and said this would be the last season for "The West Wing," which had made something of a creative comeback this year, but was sucking wind in the Nielsens, thanks to a deadly 8 p.m. Sunday timeslot.
In any event, enough was enough.
Matt Santos will have to win the election without Leo McGarry (Josh Lyman for VP?). Arnie Vinick? Yeah, right. Alan Alda gets top billing only when he's on, which isn't often enough.
This is supposed to be a two-man race, but nobody apparently told the writers. If anything, the Vinick camp is more interesting, or at least has a more intriguing supporting cast, what with Patricia Richardson, Stephen Root and real-life neocon Ron Silver mixing it up.
The Santos camp has had a whole lot of whining going on. Janeane Garofalo's communications chief is the predictable know-it-all pitbull, while Santos' wife, played by Teri Polo merely rolls her eyes a lot and looks peeved. Then there's Josh, who manages to piss off just about everyone at some point, including us. He needs to shtup Donna once and for all and get a grip.
Still, we're cautiously optimistic that the finale will be memorable for the right reasons. In its seven years, "The West Wing" hit a lot more than it missed, and that should be its most enduring legacy, given that painfully few shows can make that claim.
For those of you bereft at the prospect of life without a Bartlet administration, NBC has bestowed a few goodies to salve the pain such a void leaves, with full-season pickups in 2006-07 for "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office," which only keeps getting better. Too bad the season's being cut short this April because Steve Carell's leaving to do a movie.
Of course, if the flick's anything like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" then all will be forgiven in a Dunder Mifflin minute.

Putting The Coal Mine Deaths Into Context

The Tragedies Of West Virginia Overshadow How Much Worse It Is Elsewhere
The media has been put in the position of having to learn again how to cover mining disasters, following the two accidents in West Virginia that killed 14 miners, and getting mixed reviews in the process.
Of course, mining accidents used to be enough of an occurrence where only a large body count would cause more than a ripple in the press, sort of where we're at now when a few soldiers get picked off in Iraq.
Which puts the Chinese media in a difficult position. It has the equivalent of a Sago tragedy -- in terms of the number of dead miners -- about 523 times a year.
It's almost to the point where mining deaths in China are no longer news, merely hazards of the trade or new employment opportunities for the rural poor who flock to these jobs.
To be sure, coal mines don't have a monopoly on sending workers to their final reward. All told, there were more than 126,700 workplace deaths in China last year, Corporate Social Responsibility in Asia reports, quoting official government figures.
The really scary part: That's nearly 10,000 fewer deaths than in 2004.

Friday, January 20, 2006

New York Dailies Fight To See Who Can Hate Accused Child Killer More

In Jailhouse Interview That's A Reporter's Dream and Lawyer's Nightmare, Nixzmary Brown's Stepfather Tells Almost All
The headlines in New York newspapers this week have been dominated by the tragedy that was the short life of Nixzmary Brown, the 7-year-old girl who authorities say was beaten to death by her stepfather.
First, it was a tale of a lost innocent dying in such a violent way. Then, it was time to pile on the city's child welfare department, which has had more than its share of kids die on its watch, followed by the public outpouring of grief over Nixzmary's murder.
Today came the most startling revelation in the case, a jailhouse interview the stepfather, Cesar Rodriguez did with reporters from the Times, Daily News and Post. In the hourlong session he poured out his heart about what happened and his difficult relationship with Nixzmary, but stopped short of confessing.
"It's a fragile situation," he intoned. To say the least.

The Times piece by Corey Kilgannon is typically restrained as Rodriguez all but blames Nixzmary for her own death.
"I ask her why she had to put me through so much trouble," he says.

Rodriguez said he had agreed to the interview to give his side of the story. After seeing what the Daily News and the Post wrote, he will undoubtedly have second thoughts.
Both papers have already done everything to Rodriguez but lynch him and drag his corpse through the streets for everyone to spit on. Not that such an action would be a terrible thing in this case, but not a sentiment for a newspaper to foment.

"Sicko Dad Blames Angel" blares the Daily News. And the story by Lisa Munoz and Tracy Connor, the paper's judge and jury, proceeds predictably from there.

In an outrageous jailhouse interview the day after she was buried, Rodriguez revealed the demented conversation he has with Nixzmary's spirit while he lays awake in his cell at night.
"I ask her why she had to put me through so much trouble," he told reporters, wringing the same hands he used to pummel the child and tie her to a chair in a locked room.


Vivid, yes. Appropriate, no. But then again, the Daily News is loath to be outdone in its zeal by the Post, even if it means such prose borders on self-parody. On that account, we'll call this story a draw. From a dispatch penned by Douglas Montero, Marsha Kranes and Andy Geller:

Stepfather from hell Cesar Rodriguez turned into a sniveling crybaby yesterday as he said he killed Nixzmary Brown by accident — and that she brought it on herself.
While insisting in a jailhouse interview that he has "a lot of guilt," the heartless Rodriguez insisted he's a good father and, amazingly, said the 7-year-old drove him to kill her.


There's a difference between powerful writing to convey the drama of a story and hype just for the sake of stirring motions that are already at full boil.
If anything the tabloids went to great lengths to insult their readers' intelligence, as if anyone needs a road map to conclude that Rodriguez's cowardly rationales for treating Nixzmary the way he did are anything but outrageous and deserving of a firm, swift punishment.
Rodriguez can hang himself just fine, thank you.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Radio Legend Rumbles Into Retirement: Remembering Chris Glenn

As word came yesterday that radio news icon Christopher Glenn would retire next month, I thought back to a late night in college in 1982, when I once made a point to catch a CBS News program called “Nightwatch.”

It wasn’t part of my normal viewing routine given that it aired between 2-6 a.m. Even for a nocturnal undergrad/budding news junkie that was too much to handle.

But I watched because among the quartet of anchors was Glenn, whose soothing, sonorous baritone was the one I and millions of other kids heard on some 5,000 “In The News” segments sandwiched between CBS cartoons on Saturday morning.

I knew the voice. Now I wanted to see what that voice looked like, which is why Channel 6 in Albany was on in my dorm room way too late one night, much to my roommate’s discontent.

“Nightwatch” didn’t last, but Christopher Glenn did, cementing his legend at CBS News Radio. The unmistakable rumble, burnished by countless cartons of cigarettes, boomed out of millions of radios, most notably for the last 20 years on CBS’ signature broadcasts “The World Tonight” and, more recently, “The World News Roundup.”

I went from one of those kids enraptured by the “In The News” guy to getting the chance to work with Chris for over seven years at CBS. For a radio dweeb like myself, it didn’t get any better. Being among the likes of Chris, David Jackson, Mitchell Krauss and David Dow, all of whom had links to the most glorious days of CBS News, was as good as it gets in the news business.

Only Glenn is still with the network, and when he departs on Feb. 24, so goes perhaps the last link to an incredible journalistic legacy.

Chris Glenn knew others revered his work, but never took himself too seriously, saving that for his newscasts. When I told him my “Nightwatch” story he was embarrassed more than he was flattered.

Any editor or producer who worked for him found someone willing to collaborate. That didn’t mean he’d agree with everything you’d suggest. But he’d listen, a quality many anchors often lack.

Which doesn’t mean he and I didn’t have our occasional battle royales. Sometimes we both stuck to our guns too much. Suffice to say, the rest of the newsroom was better able to hear his side of the argument than mine. Fortunately, those days were few and far between, and because he was who he was, I would labor a little harder to make his newscasts better. A “nice job” coming from him meant the world. He was that good.

I produced the CBS radio coverage of the John Glenn shuttle launch in 1998, and Chris was my anchor for the long-form coverage and special reports. A one-time fixture at Cape Canaveral for space launches, he was behind the mic when Challenger blew up in 1986, providing a sad, chilling and ultimately unforgettable real-time account of the tragedy. It contained a precise mix of poise, authority and disbelief. Twenty years later, it remains as riveting as ever.

Back in the radio studios at the CBS bureau in Cape Canaveral, Chris was in his element, interviewing astronauts and NASA officials while doing interview after interview with CBS affiliates. He relished the chance to not only read the news but to once again cover it as well.

Nowadays it’s rare for radio anchors to actually cover a story, but Chris had cut his teeth in the field as a reporter and producer. And it showed. It’s the kind of stuff that becomes a legend most.

If you haven’t heard Chris since you watched “In The News” while you were wolfing down your second bowl of Cocoa Puffs, or, gasp, listen to another network besides CBS, hear what the fuss is about while you still can and catch him on “The World News Roundup” at 8 a.m. ET and 7 a.m. PT. He also does the hourly newscasts between 11 a.m.-1 p.m. ET.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Ted Koppel Bursting Out All Over

For A Guy Who Cut Back To Three Days A Week at "Nightline" He's Getting Awfully Busy In A Hurry
First, came the recent news that Ted Koppel and a posse from "Nightline" would be heading to Discovery Networks to produce long-form documentaries.
Now comes word Koppel will not only contribute columns to The New York Times, but be a semi-regular on NPR.
NPR hadn't put out an announcement as of 4;15 p.m., but the AP has the story:

Looking More Than A Little Threadbare at Newsday

Relying On The Wires For Local Copy Just Another Chapter In The Sad Saga of the Once-Mighty Long Island Daily
Because it pretty much has Long Island to itself, Newsday has long been the journalistic equivalent of an 800-pound gorilla -- a nice spot to be in when you're the hometown paper for 2.7 million people.
But circulation scandals that masked a steep readership decline, a shrunken newshole and dozens of buyouts that saw dozens of seasoned reporters bid adieu have put a serious dent in what was once a must-read.
Case in point are two stories that appeared today on Newsday.com.
More newspapers are using their Web editions as vital conduits between editions to put their own imprint on breaking news. Reporters can bang out a story's essentials for the Web and update it as necessary, then get down to the business of preparing their main story for tomorrow's paper.
Alas, that was not on display at Newsday.com, which on its home page had the story on the New York Islanders firing their coach. But instead of a dispatch from Islanders beat writer Alan Hahn, Newsday posted a full-dress version from the AP.
The Islanders are the one major-league pro team on Long Island. Even if hockey is not front and center in the hearts and minds of most sports fans -- and the Islanders are not even in the hearts of most New York-area hockey fans -- it still merits Newsday jumping on the story faster. Sure, you pay the AP big bucks to do that for you, but not for breaking news in your backyard. Pretty sad.
The same can be said for an AP dispatch on Newsday.com about a report being shot down that Republicans had approached Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi about endorsing him in a possible run for governor.
By running this story, Newsday not only used wire copy that quoted the New York Post, which ran the original report, but later quoted The New York Times about another development in the governor's race.
Again, Newsday's not in the business of matching the wire word for word, but when it comes to something that involves the most prominent politician in your region, you need to get cracking on that story and make it your own. Regardless of whether Newsday can't or won't, something is wrong. And given the cutbacks Tribune has demanded at all of its newspapers it isn't likely to be made right anytime soon.

Giving James Frey and Nan Talese An English Lesson

Bobbing and Weaving As "A Million Little Pieces" Falls Apart

Now that James Frey came clean to Larry King, America's Father Confessor, about making up some details of his life, you'd think his publisher, Nan Talese, and his number-one fan Oprah Winfrey would be finger-pointing and washing their collective hands of the man who took the fiction part of nonfiction when writing "A Million Little Pieces" a little too literally.
Instead, they are in denial.
"Although some of the facts have been questioned," Winfrey put it delicately during a phone call to "Larry King Live" on CNN, "the underlying message of redemption in James Frey's memoir still resonates with me..."
Which is about what you would expect her to say, given how effusive her praise has been for Frey and the millions of copies of his book her rave review helped sell.
But ever since thesmokinggun.com revealed that Frey wasn't quite the lowlife and scoundrel he made himself out to be, calling into question his tale of redemption, Frey and his allies have been in furious spin mode, none more so than Talese.
Today's New York Times has both sides of the debate she and her husband Gay Talese have been having about exactly what is nonfiction. Gay Talese, who rode to fame as a reporter and author dealing with facts, said simply: "Nonfiction takes no liberty with facts, and it should not."
To which in her own self-interest, Nan Talese replied: "Nonfiction is not a single monolithic category as defined by the bestseller list."
Oh, really?
How about, instead, we simply consult a dictionary or two? The Random House College Dictionary defines nonfiction as "the branch of literature comprising works of prose dealing with or offering facts or theory." Merriam-Webster's online edition put it more succinctly: "literature that is not fictional."
It doesn't get any less ambiguous than that. Still, Nan Talese is busy burrowing herself in what every gray area she can find, by lamely arguing that by virtue of "A Million Little Pieces" being a memoir, it shouldn't be held to the same standards as a history or biography.
Back to the dictionary for you, Nan, where Merriam-Webster labels a memoir "a narrative composed from personal experience," while Random House says it's a "record of facts or events or events in connection with a particular subject ... as known to the writer...."
A little wiggle room, perhaps?
Frey told King what he changed represented less than 5 percent of what's in his book, which he somehow thinks is "within the realm of what's appropriate for a memoir."
Talese jumped on that bandwagon in the Times, where she said a memoir is "not absolute fact. It how one remembers what happened."
Sorry, no wiggle room.
A memoir may not be absolute fact, Nan, but the assumption is that it's one's interpretation of the facts. We can all view an event differently, but at least it's something that happened. In this case, Frey admitted to fabricating important details that made the book so compelling, such as spending three months in prison.
For someone who made her mark as a skilled wordsmith, you'd think she'd know better. But since she has her own imprint at Doubleday, and there's big money to be made from Frey's misfortune -- or his fanciful version of it -- she'll look the other way. It's her version of "it depends what is is."
In the end, "A Million Little Pieces" might be a good read, but it is most decidedly not a memoir, no matter how much Nan Talese at her myopic worst wants us to believe otherwise.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

N.Y. Times Finally Gets On The Board With Rosenbaum Murder Probe


A day late, but.....
What's particularly interesting in the story by Michael Janofsky is how it notes what the Washington Post and Cokie Roberts on NPR had to say about former Washington bureau stalwart David Rosenbaum's murder.
Nice to know, but it still begs the question of why it was left to the Post and others to eulogize Rosenbaum. Why is it so hard for the Times to say thank you and farewell?
A story on A-19 just doesn't cut it.
The Post's Glenn Kessler gets it right in today's paper. And that, for better or worse, is where you can read how Times colleagues and others felt about Rosenbaum. His employer of 37 years remains at a loss for words.


Thanks to Rachel Sklar at Media Bistro for unearthing what was Rosenbaum's first story at the Times in 1968, which, auspiciously, was on the front page the day after Nixon was elected.

She also provides links to 2,700 Rosenbaum articles. Quite a legacy.

And the tributes from other colleagues continue to arrive, this one from former colleague David Shribman, now executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

David was my most loyal critic and booster, and he knew that he could not be the one without being the other, too. But I know I am not alone. He performed these roles - and for him they were the role of a lifetime, for he was the role model of a lifetime - for so many others.


Monday, January 09, 2006

Competent P.R., Diamond Pet Food Style

Company Takes Responsibility Instead of Running for Cover in Poison Pet Food Tragedy
Stories about toxic pet food unknowingly poisoning all over the eastern U.S. continue to spread. You can't help but feel the heartbreak of hundreds of dog owners who've seen their pets die or suffer liver damage from ingesting food with dangerous amounts of aflatoxin, a fungus byproduct that grows on corn.
Diamond Pet Food realized it had a crisis on its hands when it voluntarily recalled 800,000 bags of food on Dec. 20.
Lots of products are recalled nowadays, but few after causing deaths or permanent injuries. Most recalls are prophylactic -- something may happen, so let's get this fixed now before something happens and you sue our butts off.
Diamond didn't have that luxury. It first had to deal with growing numbers of dead dogs.
COO Mark Brinkmann quickly realized damage control was about more than simply issuing a press release about the recall. He set up a call center staffed by veterinarians and offered to pay the vet bills for dog owners and compensate for lost dogs.
As he told The New York Times: "If we do the right thing, we can recover."
Mess with someone's dog and things can get ugly real quick. So, give Brinkmann credit for realizing the right thing was to help heartsick dog owners, whose quotes in newspapers only serve to help readers/animal lovers feel their pain, rather than hide under his lawyers' waistcoats and hope for the best.
That won't stop the lawsuits bound to rain down upon the company -- and this response can pretty much guarantee none will ever go to trial -- but it will limit the deluge. A little caring goes a long way.

Murder of One of Its Reporting Titans Fails to Get New York Times Riled Up


David Rosenbaum's Killing Duly Noted, Little Else
We've mentioned before how The New York Times is content to give the death of one of its journalists a perfunctory mention on the obit page when other publications tend to give longer, flowing tributes to departed colleagues and take some measure of the person as well as his work.
The death from injuries suffered in a fatal mugging of veteran Washington hand David Rosenbaum shows how wrong-headed, even callous, that treatment can be.

Besides the fact that Rosenbaum toiled for more than 35 years for the Times, he, quite simply, was one of the best at what he did, breaking down the arcana, jargon, minutia and absurdities of the bureaucracy and making it understandable to the rest of us. He did it, so we didn't have to.
It's a safe bet that his explanations of such things as the tax code, Social Security, and the budget were cribbed by many a reporter too dim or lazy to do their own legwork.
Yet, the Times pretty much gave Rosenbaum a standard obit penned by Todd Purdum, although it did actually include a recently gathered quote from former CBO head Robert Reischauer.
Still, it includes but one paragraph on how Rosenbaum was brutally mugged in what is supposed to be a very safe Northwest D.C. neighborhood and died from the head injuries. Nothing on the investigation of the killing. That was left to the Washington Post.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/08/AR2006010801179_pf.html, which also had a heartfelt quote from Times Washington bureau chief Phil Taubman.
As is shamefully typical of the Times, such a tribute never made it into its pages, even though Rosenbaum's work was for so long a vital cog to its inside-the-Beltway coverage. Instead, it was left to Jim Romenesko's blog to publish Taubman's memo to the staff about Rosenbaum's death.
Wrote Taubman: "David didn't just cover the budget, or Social Security, or taxes or any of the other issues he tracked. He studied them and mastered them. And he was passionate about them."
Were only the Times able to stoke a little passion into its obits for one of their own.
And while we're at it, perhaps the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, where Rosenbaum served on the steering committee for more than a quarter-century, could also take time on its Web site to say thanks and farewell.
UPDATED 3:00 p.m. ET:
A release from the committee expressing its condolences is available by clicking on the comment link just below.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

S.O.S. -- Save Our Show -- Arrested Development Waits For A Sugar Daddy (or Showtime) To Keep It Alive

Trying To Avoid Feeling Blue About the Bluths
Last night's episode of "Arrested Development" was hysterical for its myriad of guest stars to help poke fun at the network that basks in the praise and awards the show has received, yet consistently did nothing to help it nurture an audience; its fans who have gone to near-desperate lengths to keep it on the air; and the various outrages, mediocrities and banality that pretty much dooms a show so daring and hilarious as A.D. from ever truly succeeding.
Next week will likely be the end of the road for A.D. on Fox. Will it then be show time on Showtime (pretty please)? Reports that ABC is also interested sound like a non-starter on a good day.
Somehow, I don't see George Bluth and company thriving on the same network as George Lopez.
And remember, you won't be able to see A.D. on "Brilliant But Canceled." Trio signed off on Dec. 31.
The show has gotten away with as much as it has because Fox has treated it as a problem child and chose to ignore it if not its Nielsens. It won't have that luxury at family-friendly ABC.
Showtime doesn't need big ratings. But it does need buzz. If nurtured, and if you give the audience a chance to see the episodes from the beginning (it really is hard to keep up otherwise), A.D. could deliver.
For now, keep tabs on www.savethebluths.org, which isn't really up and running, but was plugged on last night's episode. You can also vent your spleen at the A.D. message board at fox.com.
To the A.D. cast and crew: Good luck, and GOBspeed.

When Kurt Met Justin: Controversy Still Simmers Over Times Helping Youth Find Way Out of Kiddie Porn

Kurt Eichenwald offered an impassioned defense yesterday on NPR for his Dec. 19, nearly 7,000-word takeout in the N.Y. Times that opened a window into the sordid world of minors playing into the hands of pedophiles willing to pony up big bucks for sex acts performed on webcams.
It was a compelling, often troubling read, and showed how for all its missteps, hiccups and gross errors of judgment in recent years, the Times still matters more than any other newspaper and continues to set the table for what the rest of the national media will cover.
But what raised some hackles is Eichenwald helping the centerpiece of his story, Justin Berry, find a lawyer, tell his story to prosecutors and get him counseling.
Some media critics, like Slate's Jack Shafer, say Eichenwald crossed over the line from reporter to advocate. Eichenwald told NPR if Shafer reached that conclusion he didn't read the article carefully enough. Besides, since when does being a reporter mean you have to check your humanity at the door?
Point to Eichenwald, who said he was prompted to act when Berry revealed the identities of other children involved in Web sex acts, along with the identities of some of the perverts who were his benefactors.
Shafer's stance reminds me of the sanctimony displayed by one of my college journalism professors who proclaimed that political reporters should not vote lest they compromise their objectivity. Such tripe was among the reasons I switched my college and major -- to political science, and never missed the chance to vote, especially when I covered elections.
A few years later, I recall how a reporter from the St. Petersburg Times was chided by some colleagues for trying to help victims of a car accident on a bridge, as if she was supposed to let the passengers bleed out so she could get a better story. It is from such arrogance that the low esteem journalists are held by most of the public continues to flourish.
In this instance, being dispassionate was not an option, a conclusion that's easier to reach when you watch the video excerpts on www.nytimes.com of Eichenwald interviewing Berry. You feel unclean just hearing the details of a young life that spiraled out of control. After which, you can only applaud Eichenwald for helping to engineer the beginnings of Berry's redemption.
It's not the way your taught in J-school how to do your job, but too bad. Eichenwald stepped in only long enough to get Berry help. In the process, he not only did some good, but got a great story that's bound to give any parent pause and hopefully do the same for pedophiles who think the Internet is a sanctuary for their sickness.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

CNN Tries To Adopt Sick Iraqi Baby

But In Attempt To Hijack Story It Adds A Sense Of False Drama
The story of Baby Noor, the 3-month-old Iraqi girl flown to the United States for surgery to fix a potentially fatal birth defect was a real heartwarmer to finish off 2005.
Georgia National Guardsmen raid her home looking for weapons and find a sick baby whose parents have been told she'll soon die. Many hoops are jumped to get her to Atlanta, where doctors are volunteering their time to help her.
Good stuff, especially on a slow news day, except CNN tried to hype the story a little too much for its own good.
In a dispatch from New York TV news refugee Christopher King yesterday, he breathlessly intoned that the identity of Noor's family members (her father and grandmother) would be kept secret for fear of reprisals by insurgents and obscured their faces.
However, NBC had no compunction of sending footage to its stations that clearly showed the grandmother's face as she carried the baby through the airport. Did they not get the insurgent memo? Or are they assuming that no insurgents see NBC feeds? And would they really get all that pissed off if American doctors saved an Iraqi girl's life?
Instead, CNN puffed up its self-righteous chest and anointed itself guardian of this unfortunate family. Which would be news to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which had a reporter and photographer tracking Baby Noor's journey and has all but owned this story. It also posted a photo of Grandma and the baby as they arrived yesterday.

The family hosting Noor, her grandmother and father greeted them with roses. They peered into the eyes of the baby who had brought together strangers from across the ocean.
Orbiting Noor like crazed satellites, cameramen and reporters moved with the group toward the door.


Doesn't exactly sound like the family is preoccupied by insurgents, does it? Maybe CNN was feeling a little chastened that its hometown paper got the best of it on an international story, one that was made for TV. But that doesn't give it license to add an element to the story that didn't exist. Fair and balanced? Sorry, wrong network.

Incompetent PR, Amtrak Style

Anger Management Wins Out Over Doing The Right Thing
When corporations or government agencies are excoriated in the press, it's often because they didn't plan for an emergency or when one happens, they simply stick to the S.O.P. playbook and set themselves up for a P.R. disaster.
Such was the case for Amtrak, which now has to wrestle with the aftermath of its Silver Meteor, which arrived yesterday in New York more than 24 hours late because of a freight-train derailment and planning that could generously be described as short-sighted.
I can guarantee I will never step foot on another Amtrak again. They treated us worse than the freight. I hate their guts. They were absolutely useless, totally incompetent, totally unprepared," Bernard Marcoccia, a truck driver from Syracuse, told New York's Daily News.
Not that Amtrak needs any bad press, what with its legacy of shoddy on-time performance, balky equipment and frequent dalliances with extinction.
True, it appears Amtrak was given the bum's rush about how long the derailment would take to clear by CSX, which owns the tracks the Silver Meteor travels for most of its route from Miami to New York.
Yes, Amtrak tried to charter buses, but none were available over a holiday weekend. It was not a good situation, but it was one the railroad only made worse.
First, you had 250 passengers using toilets that weren't getting serviced. That's enough to get everyone on edge. But it gets worse.
Some genius apparently thought it was a good idea to continue charging for food even though passengers were running out of money. Not everyone had credit cards, and not everyone expected to be on the train for the better part of two days.
The cluelessness was evident when the Daily News asked Amtrak flackette Tracy Connell, who pointed out that passengers got a box lunch -- albeit only when they reached South Carolina -- why the railroad charged for food. "I don't know," was her reply. She was not alone.
As Pat Dawson made sure to remind viewers on NBC Nightly News yesterday, Amtrak had no plans to offer compensation to passengers.
Of course, some lunkhead at Amtrak HQ may be taking a lesson from the airlines, which don't offer anything for events out of their control, such as the weather. Amtrak didn't cause the derailment, but they made the situation worse with its blinders-on, callous approach to customer service.
It's so easy to say you're sorry, but PR 101 states back it up with some words or deeds. Offers of a free ticket for another trip, along with vouchers to make up for having to pay for the crappy food on board wouldn't be too much to ask. Sure, there will always be those who kvetch no matter what you do, but most people are just looking for a gesture, some token of recognition that what they went through was extraordinary, uncalled for and worthy of the railroad's further attention.
That should have been the first thing to be heard from the Amtrak mouthpieces. Instead, they played the blame game and come out looking the worst at a time when you thought that was no longer possible for Amtrak.