Tuesday, February 27, 2007
You can't fault Brian Williams for trying to inject some gravitas into "NBC Nightly News" recently by proclaiming his 22-minute slice of the airwaves would be devoid of the latest odious nuggets about Anna Nicole-Smith's repose and our favorite bald pop tart imploding and re-imploding before TMZ.com staffers could hit the send button.
Yet, Eric Deggans at the St. Petersburg Times cries foul over Williams wanting to cover the actual news of the day. Why?
Because there is real news embedded in these ongoing soap operas. And a media-weary public needs quality journalists like Williams to pull substance out of these tawdry messes.
Again, I ask, why? Or, why Williams?
Maybe the better question is why not the cable newsers, who have done anything and everything to ensure their studios will need a good fumigating after these stories have finally ebbed? Surely in the zeal to report and re-report the same pablum, they could have stepped back, exhaled and mustered up a package putting these messes in context.
No reason for Williams, Couric or Gibson to muddy up their precious moments with these pathetic sagas unless actual news emerges. Imagine that.
Monday, February 26, 2007
His official title is Petty Officer Third Class, but everyone simply called Dustin Kirby "Doc." He was a medic assigned to the Second Mobile Assault Platoon of Weapons Company, Second Battalion, Eighth Marines, which meant too often he was attending to wounds inflicted by snipers.
Kirby's balance of triage, fragile emotions, outrage and fear were expertly captured in a Nov. 2 article by C.J. Chivers in The New York Times. Sadly, but not tragically, Chivers had to report on Dec. 29 about Kirby being wounded badly by another sniper's bullet.
As is not often the case, though, Chivers had some good news to report yesterday about Kirby's recovery which is gradual, but is expected to be complete after another series of operations this year.
A more uncertain path is being traveled by Marine Lance Cpl. Colin Smith, a friend of Kirby. The first article described how Kirby had attended to Smith on the battlefield after a bullet tore through his skull and destroyed the top frontal lobes of his brain.
Smith is said by his family to be in good spirits, though his progress is uncertain.
Sometimes as a reporter you start out telling a story and you have no idea how it will end. Fortunately, this is one still being written. And with Chivers' brilliant and sensitive reportage, it will be well worth reading.
UPDATE 11:00 A.M./2/26: Glad to see others felt the same way about Chivers, who the American Society of Newspaper Editors awarded its top prize for deadline reporting. The winning entries in all categories show that, despite increasingly daunting odds, there are still plenty of newspaper reporters fighting the good fight in a medium that's diminished but just as indispensable as it ever was.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Much was written this week about restaurant mogul Jeffrey Chodorow taking out a full-page ad to rebut the negative review from New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni of Kobe Club, Chodorow's newest Big Apple eatery.
Reactions ranged from "atta-boy Jeff" to "he's even more insane than we thought."
To be sure, Bruni was not alone in savaging the steakhouse, pricey even by the mind-boggling expense account tabs typical of a New York meat emporium. Adam Platt of New York magazine and the New York Post's Steve Cuozzo also took Kobe Club to the woodshed.
But Chodorow spent at least 80 grand on the ad to go after Bruni, not the other doomsayers. Now, a bad review from Bruni (who savaged Kobe Club with a piddling no-star, Satisfactory rating) isn't necessarily fatal to a restaurant, unlike a thumbs-down from theater critic Ben Brantley. Still, it doesn't help, even if Chodorow threw out the PR playbook and made his displeasure so public.
In the rebuttal, Chodorow didn't help his case by saying Bruni was entitled to his opinion except when he said bad things about his restaurants.
I open restaurants for people, not critics. Kobe Club, with its 2000 samurai swords dangling blade-down, and its over-the-top luxe menu is not for everyone, but do we really need another traditional steakhouse in New York City?
And if he opens restaurants for people, then why does he care so much about the critics?
Still, Chodorow really is a people person. Honest.
I have been too successful and battle-hardened to be affected by this, but my restaurant staff,
who are some of the nicest, most hard-working people I have ever worked with are affected, and they deserve an apology.
At least Chodorow is confining his vitriol to expensive rebuttals and starting a blog so he can say nice things about restaurants and food. A Philadelphia-area restaurant wants to exact revenge in the courts for a review that took up all of three sentences.
Indeed, a little can say a lot. In this case, it's the steakhouse (another one? Geez!) Chops in Bala Cynwyd hot and bothered by Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan's labeling of a strip steak "miserably tough and fatty." Only thing: the restaurant alleges LaBan had a steak sandwich, not an actual steak.
The restaurant says LaBan apologized on the phone, but refused to make a correction in print. So, it's off to court we go, or at least to the lawyers' offices, which is bound to leave a bad taste in everybody's mouths.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Nancy Solomon had a report on today's "Morning Edition" on how Newark Liberty Airport takes the booby prize for having the most late arriving flights.
Part of the problem is too many planes, too little airspace.
Solomon capped the report by saying that a major new airport is being built on Long Island to help relieve congestion.
Which would be news to the people on Long Island, which has one airport, Islip MacArthur, with jet flights that local officials keep on a very tight leash.
Where Solomon should actually be looking is 50 miles north of Newark and Stewart International Airport in Newburgh, which the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey just bought to relieve the rampant airport madness closer to the city.
And which, it should be noted, is nowhere near Long Island.
It's fun being a reader advocate or ombudsman sometimes. You can pretty much say what you want, skewer a few sacred cows and piss off people in the newsroom without fear of a pink slip.
Wayne Ezell at the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville knows that well. Which is how he got to have fun at the expense of the newspaper's ad department, which accepted a full-page ad that had a big stink to it.
The cool part: people inside the newspaper aren't supposed to say "no comment," hang up or curse at the reader advocate. They have to provide answers, even if they wind up being lame like the one offered up by ad director Mark Cohen.
"We cannot check out the creditability [sic] of every advertiser or offer. However, if we have a legitimate complaint from a reader that they were in fact 'scammed, then we will investigate, and if found to be true we will no longer accept further advertising."
But does the T-U check out the veracity of any ad? Might a full-page ad that's advertising the ready availability of "surplus cash" ring a few warning bells? Apparently not, so long as the check clears. Times are tough in the news business, after all. Caveat emptor yada, yada, yada.
Which is why we need more Wayne Ezells helping us sort out the wheat from the chaff, even when his bosses profit handsomely from that chaff.
While we don't expect the advertising department at the Portland Press-Herald to spontaneously break out singing "Hava Negila," at least the paper's trying to make sure it doesn't offend Jews again, after managing to pull off that feat twice in two weeks.
The newspaper is embarking on diversity training in order to empower its staff with some semblance of common sense (see below story).
All well and good, but the fact that we're having this conversation in 2007 is rather bewildering and incontrovertibly sad.
In other words, a shonda.
Friday, February 16, 2007
First there was an ad for a sermon at a local Baptist church titled "The Only Way To Destroy The Jewish Race." OK, it was actually somehwat complimentary of Jews, but maybe the title was best kept out of the paper.
Then the Portland Press-Herald runs an ad for a local bank with a large headline "The Fee Bandit." Wouldn't you know? The guy in the picture above just happens to look a little too much like a Hasid you'd see walking down the street in Borough Park.
Oops. So, the putz factor apparently runs high at Maine's largest newspaper. Of course, Jews are not exactly, um, abundant Down East. Many people in the state probably haven't seen a Jew since "Seinfeld" went off the air. Nonetheless, a big-time boner, and the Press-Herald concedes as much.
"Publishing these advertisements was an unfortunate mistake and an error in judgment on our part, for which I accept full responsibility," blubbered publisher Charles Cochrane.
Thanks for that, Chuck, though, he was not in a contrite mood when contacted by the Sun-Journal in Lewiston and told them to kush meer in toches (kiss my ass).
"We don't discuss that - you'd need to call the advertiser about that," Cochrane said. "Have a nice day."
Apparently, Cochrane got a little religion in his keppe and changed his mind. But he's got some convincing to to do. Sorry's just not gonna cut it. As a local rabbi told the Sun-Journal: "One time is a mistake. Two times is a policy."
Cochrane may also have a little trouble convincing some of the inbred backwoods types who chimed in on the paper's Web site. Like this one from rocket scientist Clinch up in Poland Springs:
What's next? Will the NAACP complain about ads that have bronzed sun-tanned bodies in them? Will Juan Valdez and his Colombian coffee now be a poster child for sub-standard working conditions in South America? (What? He still has a donkey? Are his "kind" too poor to buy a "John Deere?" Some people need to get a life.
Or a clue.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
It's the journalistic equivalent of a hard-on. You own the story. It's your clips that TV reporters drag around when they write their own scripts for their live shots; the ones your competition is forced to match, or simply crib from.
Such was the tragic story of Cesar Borja, the New York cop who died of lung disease as a result of all the dust, asbestos and other crap that lingered in the air after the World Trade Center collapsed.
Borja's death caught the attention of many a politician, including Hillary Clinton and President Bush, who was lobbied by Borja's son Cesar Jr. to provide more federal dollars to help sickened first responders.
Borja's plight was first brought to light in January by the Daily News, who portrayed him as a tireless first responder who worked extended shifts on the pile after the towers collapsed.
It was a great story. Only problem, as The New York Times told us Monday in a 2,800-plus-word dispatch, it didn't quite hold up under closer scrutiny.
Borja was at Ground Zero, but not until December. Which means he didn't rush from a tow pound, where he spent most of his police career, straight to the pile, as the Daily News reported.
End result: A steady diet of crow on offer in the Daily News city room. And the paper, to its credit, owned up to as much in an editorial unusually placed on page 6 today:
We first stated that when the Trade Center collapsed, Borja "rushed to Ground Zero and started working long days there - even volunteering to work extra shifts." The article also asserted that Borja "volunteered to work months of 16-hour shifts in the rubble." Neither statement has been supported by documentary evidence.
The paper had first tried to spin its way out of being caught up in its own mess yesterday with a piece headlined "My dad will always be a hero to me!"
In the article, Borja's son, Cesar Jr. accused the Times of attacking his father's honor, even though the Times had quoted him as saying “I don’t believe my father to be any less heroic than I previously thought, any less valiant than the other papers previously misreported on.”
Today, it put aside its mea culpas, and for good reason.
The only consolation for the News is that the paper that scooped it was not the New York Post. Fear not, the Posties are reveling in what happened. The Murdoch gang used an editorial yesterday titled "Death of a Myth" to slam the News for hyping the Borja story without firm evidence his death was caused by Ground Zero exposure.
[Borja] had smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for years before quitting in the late '90s. And his regular NYPD assignment was at an auto tow pound, where surely he inhaled engine exhaust on each shift.
But the fable fabricated by the Daily News has energized a cash-driven crusade to authenticate a "Ground Zero Syndrome" - requiring billions in taxpayer outlays to palliate.
And to dig the knife in a little sharper, it called the Times story, by Sewell Chan and Al Baker, "genuine public-service reporting."
Which is one thing everybody should be able to agree on.
So, first we have a self-important millionairess publisher who sticks her nose in the news product to protect her friends and punish her own pet peeves. Top editors are given the boot along with some veteran reporters. Others follow them out the door. Massive community protests ensue along with a federal labor investigation.
End result: The Santa Barbara News-Press is a husk of its former self.
And in a continuing drive to show its ends justifies its means, editorial-page editor and acting publisher Travis Armstrong flailed away at former colleagues in a column Tuesday for taking a principled stand. The nerve.
In betraying the principles of their past craft, they appear to want to shut down the paper's free speech, as well as hurt the livelihoods of 200 News-Press workers and their families.
OK, let's put aside the fact that the ex-staffers have been exercising their free speech in protesting McCaw -- and Armstrong's wanton ways. Funny, don't recall Armstrong cozying up to the First Amendment when the News-Press, under the old regime, posted a short item about his DUI arrest. When he was sentenced, McCaw ordered the story on the court proceeding killed. So much for the First Amendment.
But Armstrong has in the past made no apologies for injecting himself into the newsgathering process, despite that generally being a no-no for those in the executive suite.
Now back to the screed:
Growing up in a Teamsters family, I remember as a young boy listening to men talk over the kitchen table or on the phone about spreading nails or damaging trucks. It was scary stuff.
Those who have brought such an outfit to our peaceful community deserve scorn.
... Where are groups such as the ACLU in battling this governmental interference in free expression?
Oy, vey. Cue the Stradivarius.
Many of the dozens of staffers who've quit or been fired gave the best years of their journalistic lives to the News-Press. None should be actively seeking to kill the paper. After all, Armstrong and McCaw are already doing a bang-up job of that on their own, as Susan Paterno exhaustively chronicled in the American Journalism Review. That article spurred a libel suit by McCaw that Paterno is aggressively defending.
The truth hurts, and as his column shows, Armstrong is in a lot of pain.
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Monday, February 05, 2007
The shark's not jumping yet on "Lost." But if showrunners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof aren't careful, it could be getting antsy real soon.
Now that the show cranks up again Wednesday, it's time to once again wonder about how it's eventually going to end, namely long before we stop caring about polar bears in the South Pacific, mysterious Black Smoke and that darn Hanso Project.
To his credit, Cuse insists there is something over the horizon. But exactly how long they'll take to get there no one knows, he recently told TV writers:
"It's time for us now to find an end point for this show. It's always been discussed that the show would have a beginning, middle and end...[and] once we a lot of the anxiety and a lot of these questions like - 'we're not getting answers' - will go away."
The 16 consecutive episodes to finish out season three may well foretell what will ultimately be Lost's defining moments.
But as Verne Gay notes in Newsday, not even Cuse and Co. are fully clued into their own instincts. That could be a good thing as the show bridges the gap between those who want love triangles and the legions who crave enough obfuscated mythology to keep the blogosphere at full boil.
Either way, as long as we don't see the Fonz on waterskis, "Lost" should be all right.
The party line could go something like this: Sure, we despise Mahmoud Ahmadinejad just like the next guy, but we can't be seen taking sides.
And so it goes at some 40 U.S. media organizations, which the Jerusalem Post reports have rejected banner ads from the World Zionist Organization and Israel-based Jewish Agency, which promotes Jewish emigration to Israel, of warning about the all-too-apparent paralells between Iran's leader and Hitler circa 1938.
The problem: these news sites don't want to be infected with political and advocacy statements for fear of compromising their mission of covering both sides of a story. Fair enough.
Of course, you could argue, as the WZO does, that a campaign against hatred and anti-Semitism hardly qualifies as a political statement. But there you have it.
What remains to be seen, however, is whether this was a blanket rejection or the lack of due diligence by Network Solutions, which attempted to place the ads.
As the article notes, Village Voice publisher Michael Cohen, whose publication -- even in its watered-down form --was unlikely to reject the ad for the simple reason that "sales representatives work based on commission and it is in their interest to sell as much ad space as possible."
Which is why, in this age of shrunken media profits, you'd be surprised anyone would reject the ad at all, unless someone is so hellbent on not alienating that all important fundamentalist, Jew-hating Iranian demographic. You know how they can get.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
CBS News Correspondent Byron Pitts, above, was asked the replacement question on the CBS Public Eye blog and offered this response:
I hope the decision will be made to hire someone who can follow in his footsteps. Someone who is a journalist who has shown range, who has shown compassion, and someone who's real. One of the things that I think that people loved about Ed Bradley – as they do about all the people at "60 Minutes" – is you get a sense that they are real people, they are not people who just showed up on the scene, but they are people who have a body of work, and when they tell you something, because they have covered all the major stories in the course of their careers, that you can believe it.
Pitts is too humble to nominate himself, but CBS could do a lot worse than to hire on this everyman workhorse of a reporter who has quietly distinguished himself be it in Iraq, amid Katrina and a hundred other points in between.
There have been complaints that the CBS News bench is not very deep, and the network would have to look beyond West 57th to fill the ranks at "60 Minutes."
To be sure, CBS may not have as many stars in waiting as the other nets, but they have solid journalists who don't make a spectacle of themselves but can effortlessly pull off a compelling dispatch no matter where they're sent. Pitts falls into that category.
He deserves a shot on Sunday nights.