Monday, September 25, 2006
The staff of the San Jose Mercury-News was understandably anxious when as part of the breakup of the Knight-Ridder empire, the newspaper was acquired by MediaNews, which is owned by William Dean Singleton, a man with cash who likes to slash.
When the sale was announced April 26, the Newspaper Guild's Save The Merc Web site reacted with predictable alarm.
Still, most in the newsroom were willing to at least let the guy try to right the listing ship in Silicon Valley, especially when he initially was saying all the right things.
Now it's contract negotiation time, and the Guild now sees that it's the same old same old with Lean Dean, who's rattling the sabers to get reporters and editors to cave into a draconian contract now or face the ax later.
After what happened to reporters at the San Francisco Chronicle, who voted to cut their pay, and gave up sick days and vacation time after being threatened with extinction by management, it's going to be ugly -- and that's on a good day.
And not to say I told you so, but I got the heebie-jeebies when this was first announced. This is not a time where I'm happy to be vindicated.
So you're Chris Wallace, and you have an interview set up with Bill Clinton to talk about his Global Initiative. But instead, you want to talk about why he didn't incinerate Osama bin Laden while still residing in the White House.
So you're Bill Clinton and now you're pissed off at Chris Wallace, which is why Wallace sounds less than credible when asked about Clinton ripping him a new one on camera.
"All I did was ask him a question, and I think it was a legitimate news question. I was surprised that he would conjure up that this was a hit job," Wallace said.
Wallace set Clinton up with a few softballs on his Global Initiative, then launched into a familiar Fox device, a variation on "people are saying," to legitimize the following question
"When we announced that you were going to be on "Fox News Sunday," I got a lot of e-mail from viewers. And I've got to say, I was surprised. Most of them wanted me to ask you this question: Why didn't you do more to put bin Laden and Al Qaeda out of business when you were president?"
Let's deconstruct the first part of that. "I got a lot of e-mail from viewers." Most of it was from employees at the RNC and Heritage Foundation.
"And I've got to say I was surprised." That I didn't get more.
Of course, one could argue Clinton should have known what he might have been in for appearing on Fox, which was the official Impeachment Channel, after all. I mean, who really cares about yeoman efforts to curb genocide, AIDS and global warming?
What Clinton may not have expected was that he'd be interviewed by Wallace, who acts like he still needs to show his daddy that's he got a set of stones too. This wasn't the time or place to affirm that.
And if you don't believe me, read the transcript of the Wallace-Clinton dust-up and decide for yourself, more than what Fox usually allows you to do.
In its determined slide toward mediocrity and embarrassment, The New York Times sports section provided more grist for the mill.
The latest tomfoolery from sports editor Tom Jolley and Co: Print box scores for only the New York teams and those still in the hunt for a wildcard.
The games themselves were relegated to tiny paragraphs at the bottom of D3. Granted, there may be little interest in the New York area for who got how many hits in the Angels' 7-1 thrasing of the A's, beyond those in Fantasy leagues.
But printing box scores is one of those until-now sacrosanct things. You did it because there was a game report to render and this was the best way to do it. End of discussion.
Instead, the Times thought it more prudent to offer us complete agate on an LPGA tournament, the Dover 400 for the dozens of NASCAR fans on the Upper East Side, and the results of every tennis tournament from Albuquerque to Calcutta. Literally.
Not enough money, you say? The Times' 3Q financials will come in much lower than expected? Yeah, we know. But at the same time that it can't print all box scores, this is the same paper that spends thousands of dollars to send three staffers to the Giants-Seahawks game in Seattle and print all of three stories. Then again, sidebars on the games readers care about the most have never been the Times' strong suit.
Instead, it used up its precious football allotment for bylined stories on the Colts-Jaguars and Bears-Vikings game. That's right, the Times is really a national paper that just happens to live in New York, a notion the sports department seems to run away with whenever it gets the chance.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Eater.com, a blog that does a workmanlike job of covering the comings and goings at New York's five zillion restaurants, had contributions recently from an owner of Freeman 's, a popular Lower East Side hangout most notable for being in an alley. You gotta know where to find it and plenty of hipsters and wannabe hipsters have done just that over the last two years.
So has New York Times restaurant slayer Frank Bruni. The missives on Eater from William Tigertt of Freeman's dwelled first on when Bruni was spotted in the restaurant, fretting over the menu and then hoping for the best after Bruni called with some questions along with Times fact-checkers.
He wrote on Monday:
It makes me sad to think that tomorrow night I will sitting in my office in front of a computer clicking reload on the New York Times webpage until carpal tunnel syndrome sets in. I would much rather be carousing dive bars with my co-workers, self-medicating our jitters, and celebrating whatever victories and setbacks the past two years of New York has thrown at us.
Which is why it will be interesting to see what Tigertt will write next, given that Bruni's review in today's Times gave the restaurant zero stars, saddling it with the kiss-of-death "satisfactory" rating. Such reviews make for good reading if not eating.
The folks at Eater, unabashed fans of Freeman's are fulminating. They had been expecting a one-star review, with a two-star assessment a distant possibility. "[H]is sticking Freemans with a Satisfactory this week is somewhat inexplicable in that it reads mostly as an "I told you so" wrist slap."
But the thinking at Eater is Freeman's has a healthy coat of Teflon to fend off even the worst Bruni barbs. Keep that order of grilled Cheddar toast warm for me, in the meantime.
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Morning radio DJs don't have to be Mensa candidates to be successful. But at least half a brain would help.
John Hines needs help.
As the clown-in-chief on the morning show on country station K102 in the Twin Cities, Hines and his cohorts were riffing on how Jon Voight was having trouble with the names of the children of his estranged daughter Angelina Jolie, including daughter Zahara Jolie-Pitt.
That's when things headed rapidly downhill, reports the Star-Tribune.
"I don't know what that child's name was, but I said, 'He could have said Chocolate Monkey for all I know and what would the difference be? He's never met the kids.'"
Hines said he didn't know Zahara is black.
Hines says he's sorry if his mouth overtook his brain, but that doesn't qualify him for KKK membership. We'll see if his bosses believe that. Or if they care.
Ah, live TV.
Tonight, Larry King was interviewing Joe Biden about Ahmadinejad's UN speech (summary: liar, liar, pants on fire. Bush did a decent job).
Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer were in the studio with King while Biden was elsewhere.
Ever the inclusive one, King asks:
"Anderson, do you have a question for Joe?"
Monday, September 18, 2006
In the Virginia Senate race, it's the dark horse vs. the guy who rides a horse.
The former would be Democrat Jim Webb, political neophyte cum war hero going up against Bush lapdog George (my Dad was a football icon and thank goodness he named me after him) Allen Jr.
Allen's got more name recognition, more money and the advantage of incumbency, but nothing is forever as the latest polls show.
Ideology aside, Webb should win in a landslide if yesterday's debate on "Meet The Press" is any indication.
From a rhetorical perspective, Webb gave Allen a big-time pimp slap that should convince the Allen camp to stick a prod in their candidate and give him some life.
Webb was plain-spoken and forceful in his opposition to the Iraq war and concisely explained to Tim Russert why he supported Allen in 2000 but not now.
In response, Allen offered up political bromides, using the tired tactic of referring to Webb, who was sitting right next to him, as "my opponent," rather than "Jim" or "Mr. Webb," as if people would somehow forget his name if he didn't utter it.
When Russert repeatedly pressed him on his unyielding support for the war and would he do it again if he knew that the CIA had concluded there was no Saddam-al Qaeda link, he bobbed, weaved and bumbled rather than offer a straight answer.
Allen has been consistent in saying he voted for the war out of loyalty to the country, not Bush, and he went back to that sawhorse yesterday -- never really explaining what the hell that means in the first place.
As for the "Macaca" crack, Allen took himself to the woodshed, even though he denied knowing it was a racist slur. "There was no racial or ethnic intent at slurring .... It was just made up, made up words" and said he had never heard of the word before.
And what about that Confederate flag you once kept in your house along with a noose at his law office?
In the session's "duh" moment, he offered: "I wish I had experiences in life earlier and I would have made decisions differently" and insisted, without conviction but with copious amounts of platitudes that he really, really likes black people and others who don't look exactly like him.
Somewhere, Allen's press handlers must have been looking for a noose of their own. It couldn't have gone any worse for their man.
Somewhere else, those at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee should be looking in their till and give what they have to Webb. It's not often they get a candidate running against an opponent too distracted from the foot that keeps getting stuck in his mouth.
But I doubt that's in the cards. Here's why:
---Ship Without A Rudder -- The Times, even in its diminished state caused by years of budget and staff cuts, is still a great newspaper, routinely winning Pulitzer prizes and the grudging admiration of its rivals. It still stirs the drink when it comes to entertainment coverage, while its vaunted foreign bureaus will now also service most of the other Tribune properties who lost their own bureaus thanks to the beancounters in Chicago. Take them away and most foreign news in those papers will come from the wires, which could include the LA Times via a syndicate, in what would be quite an ironic and sad turn of events.
---Still A Cash Cow--Unless you're a greedy institutional investor who waxes nostalgic about the oceans of black ink flowing from newspapers' bottom lines during the dot-com boom, then a 20 percent profit margin like the one generated by the Times is mighty respectable. The Times is responsible for about a quarter of Tribune's publishing revenue, according to the Journal. Take that away, and the company is much-diminshed, more damaged goods than nimble.
---Economies of Scale--The likes of Ron Burkle and David Geffen have been sniffing around the Times sensing an opportunity, not to mention the lofty goal of making the Times locally owned again (we all know how well that's worked out in Santa Barbara, after all). But when these billionaire wannabe publishers have to negotiate their own deals for such mundane items as newsprint and health insurance, they're on their own. No corporate rates spread over many properties. Then they have to justify the price they paid. That means making a buck. That means cutting jobs. That spells disaster.
It's still possible for Tribune to fold in on itself and be broken into pieces a la Knight Ridder if Wall Street is truly ravenous. But it's doubtful Tribune will facilitate that by getting rid of the Times. At least not yet.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
Can't We All Just Get Along? Not!
They're getting testy over at the White House press room, apparently jonesing for the midterms and the hopeful humiliation of the Bushies by a mad as H-E-double-hockey-sticks electorate.
Meantime, NBC White House chieftain David Gregory and presidential mouthpiece Tony Snow are done with their honeymoon. Somewhere, Scott McClellan is cackling rather loudly, following this exchange:
MR. SNOW: Okay, let me -- let's not let you get away with being rude. Let me just answer the question, and you can come back at me.
Q Excuse me. Don't point your finger at me. I'm not being rude.
MR. SNOW: Yes, you are.
Maybe if they had kept going, it would have devolved into:
Q: I know you are, but what am I?
MR. SNOW: I see London, I see France. I can see your underpants.
Q: Your Mama.
MR. SNOW: Your Mama is a leading contributor to MoveOn.org.
Play nice, you two!
Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Now the second-day stories from Down Under on Steve Irwin's demise are starting the transition from grief to questions to reflection.
Click on the story in the Sydney Morning Herald where police determined Irwin was not "intimidating" the homicidal ray, and you get 31 links to other sidebars, tributes, videos and photos. Also included is a poll asking: "Should video footage of Irwin's death be shown?" As of this writing, it's 58 percent against, by the way.
Over at The Australian, columnist Matt Price sounds a bit bemused, even a little put off, by the worldwide reaction to Irwin's bizarre death, noting it shows how little the rest of the world knows about his country.
In truth, of course, Irwin’s Australia is largely a romantic myth. We are the most urbanised nation in the world, living in increasingly crammed cities on an increasingly crowded coastline. We are, as a rule, terrified of sharks, crocodiles, snakes and spiders, just like everyone else in the world.
Then again, Prime Minister John Howard appears to be buying into the myth, when he said Irwin died in "quintessentially Australian circumstances" and offered up a state funeral if Irwin's family wants one.
But there are the inevitable dispatches that try to knock Irwin's legacy down a peg or two, including one from Mark Coultan in Melbourne's The Age. Writing from New York, he made note of the saturation coverage here and added for good measure: "Irwin was a nightmare for tourism marketers trying to shift Australia's image from beaches and koalas."
Coulter says Irwin's success begat other Discovery Channel staples like Shark Week. More danger = higher ratings, but encouraging irresponsible behavior -- if a bloke like Steve can do it why can't we? -- among viewers that can lead to a bad outcome. His death might give Discovery pause before showing other programs of this ilk. But don't count on that.
Over at 2UE, one of Australia's leading news-talk stations, this was topic one, of course. It was refreshing to listen to overnight host Stuart Bocking actually talk to a caller who felt Irwin encouraged disturbing animal habitats for the better part of seven minutes, and not once shout him down, call him an idiot and hang up spewing epithets.
Conversations on talk radio. How quaint.
Friday, September 01, 2006
After seeing Bob Schieffer's farewell [along with Sean McManus' painfully awkward attempts to give his outgoing anchor a hug], we were getting ready to fire up the TiVo to watch CBS' promised retrospective on Dan Rather's 44 years at the network.
You'll have to tell me how it was.
In New York, CBS is preempting the special for a meaningless preseason NFL game, according to the Channel Island blog at LATimes.com. No alternate air date's been scheduled.
In Los Angeles, Dan is also dissed, but he's at least dumped over to CBS' other station, KCAL. No such luxury in the Big Apple.
By the way, if you're looking for a little sauce to ladle on the usual TV news piffle, Channel Island is most worthy of your time. Props to the blog for taking to task the media sycophants who lap up what the network flacks offer up, in the interests of "access."