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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Monday, February 28, 2005

Local TV Newscast Exhibits Journalistic Restraint, News at 11

Coverage of the apparent murder of Judge Joan Lefkow's husband and mother shows a couple of different ways of skinning the same cat.

The Chicago ABC affiliate's Kevin Roy, leading off the 10 o'clock newscast: "We do know from several sources who the victims are and their relation to the judge, but we are not revealing them yet, as police have not revealed them so far. They are still in the process of notifying family.... Because she is a judge who has had her life threatened, we are not revealing the exact location of her home tonight."

The Chicago Tribune's David Heinzmann, online as of 10 p.m.: "Judge Joan H. Lefkow returned to her house in the 5200 block of North Lakewood Avenue after work and found the bodies of her husband, attorney Michael F. Lefkow and her mother, Donna Humphrey, lying in blood in the house, police said."

Heinzman's a great reporter, and I have no idea whether the usually timid Tribune should have redacted the names and address. But I'm starting to get the picture: Apparent murder victims whose families haven't been notified? Sure, why not? Openly (to people with Internet access) gay daughters of preposterous gay-baiting Senate candidates? Better play it safe.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Then Rummy Sat Down at the Piano and Delivered His Classic Interpretation of Stick McGhee's "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee"

Slate: How do you feel about the U.S.-led Iraq war?
Ahmet Ertegun: First I was upset because the [Turkish government] wouldn't let the Americans go through the Turkish border with Iraq. That really kind of destroyed a bridge that my father created between Turkey and the U.S. I saw Rumsfeld a few days after that happened, and Donald said, "What happened, Ahmet, where are our friends?" I said, "Look, I think they voted against it to make [Turkey's Prime Minister Tayib] Erdogan look bad. It was purely a local political thing."


So Rumsfeld was relying on Ahmet Ertegun for strategic advice, which explains a lot. Especially his now-infamous pre-war prediction that "once the Iraqis can dig Mabel Mercer on the Armed Forces radio, babe, it'll be, like, groovy all the way to Baghdad."

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Here's Hoping for Cosmic Irony No. 512

Please join me in praying that the Pope hangs on; specifically, let us pray that he clings to life but stabilizes in a semi-vegetative state, just conscious enough to comprehend his own misery as he lingers, year after year, trapped inside a useless and atrophied body, cruelly forced to endure breath after hated breath by unthinking machines while tubes pump nutritive goo into his stomach.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Didn't Hunter Do That Already?


I guess it's a reasonable, if ghoulish, question. But a terrible headline.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Yikes.

"The release of the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and its attendant publicity have revealed what may be a surprising fact to some Americans: Hunter S. Thompson is alive.
Thompson so belongs to a bygone era that he probably should have had the good sense to die along with it. "
--David Plotz in Slate, 1998

Monday, February 21, 2005

Next Thing You Know, They'll Give the Gays Their Own Network. Oh Wait.

What exactly is the barrier being broken? First gay wedding? Nope. First gay recurring character? Nope. First once-hysterical groundbreaking show to realize it sorta missed the boat on a whole genre of scathing political satire and so frantically tried to hop on board by convincing lazy adoring entertainment "journalists" that it is boldly joining the fray? Exactly.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

My Grandmother's Intelligence is Steadily Evaporating, Too...

Bush is tackling more than one Social Security crisis. From today's NYT, as noted by Today's Papers:

The C.I.A.'s current leadership is concerned, the officials said, that ... there is no clear plan for how the agency can extricate itself from what could be a lengthy task of holding and caring for a small population of aging terrorists whose intelligence value is steadily evaporating and who are unlikely ever to be released or brought to trial.

On the upside, the dental plan is a steal. Because they don't have any teeth left.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Supreme Editor?

Jack Shafer has posthumously promoted Eason Jordan.

Shafer writes: "If Jordan ever harbored thoughts that U.S. forces had targeted journalists, a position that could be supported by the Kurtz story, then it was his duty as a newsman to pursue the story by assigning a CNN investigative team to it."

To repeat: Jordan had absolutely zero authority to do the above. Nobody reported to him, and he had no budget authority. He will not be replaced, because his job--which carried the misleading title of chief news executive--was a sui generis position created just for him 18 months ago when he was essentially reorganized out of a job. The only reason he wasn't let go then is that Ted Turner and Tom Johnson intervened on his behalf, and he got the consolation prize of being CNN's "ambassador to the world." The best he could've done is ask Chris Cramer, who runs international newsgathering for CNN, to look into it.

The point is glancing, but it does go toward deflating the frenzy of credit-taking that Hewitt et. al. have engaged in over this. It's one thing to fire--and from what I can gather, Jim Walton requested Jordan's resignation--an actual operating officer of the company because of what people wrote on the Internets. It's another thing to finally shitcan a guy who doesn't really have a job anyway aside from flying around the world causing you trouble.
So as I Was Saying to the Guys Who Founded Google While Checking Out the Private Jetliner of This Billionaire Who Fucks All the Teenage Girls He Could Possibly Need and is Far Too Important For You to Know His Name....

I hesitate to contradict Michael Wolff because he haunts my nightmares, staring at me with his cold, dead eyes. Or super-creepy Halloween contact lenses, or whatever.

And I won't dispute his actual points when it comes to the Wall Street Journal--though one wonders just how "focused" and "targeted" its readership of 2.1 million is, given that it's the second largest paper in the nation. Not exactly niche.

But Wolff's zeitgeist-y, impossible-to-actually-prove, impressionistic, snatched-from-the-thin-electrified-air-that-surrounds-his-pulsating-
veiny-glowing-genius-brain argument that the WSJ doesn't matter anymore is still wrong, even in the squishy domain from which Wolff's arguments tend to hail. The WSJ's general absence from the web makes it more elite, and hence more influential.

It's like a tip-sheet that people who matter read. Its general lack of availability online relative to the Times or the Post, coupled with its popularity among people who have a lot of money and power, gives it an air of exclusivity. At the same time, it's a mass circulation paper, so it moves the business and political agenda in a way that actual elite publications, like trades or controlled-circ magazines or whatever, can't do by themselves. So every day there are proverbial "must-reads" in the WSJ not just anyone has access to. It's very old-world, but exclusivity amplifies power, I think, in the zeitgeist-y, sweet-spot sense that Wolff is talking about. The "did you see that Journal story?" conversation is much less satisfying if everyone has seen the story.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Time Warner v. Guys With Laptops

I wrote this two years ago, when the Trib foolishly gave me a bi-weekly column in panicked effort to attract younger readers (they didn't know then that I have the heart of an 85-year-old man):

It's safe to say that when a new technological trend has captured the attention of my 62-year-old, Social Security-collecting father, its time has come. So it's fitting that my father happened to call last week with urgent advice that I, his politics-obsessed writer son, start a Weblog, or "blog" as the kids (and retirees, apparently) these days are calling it.

These are heady days for blogs: Not only has my dad started reading them, but Salam Pax, the Baghdad blogger whose witty and humane posts leading up to and during the war in Iraq earned him international celebrity, recently was profiled in The New Yorker and landed a column--a real one--in the British newspaper The Guardian.

And perhaps most important, the bloggers who incessantly needled The New York Times in the wake of the Jayson Blair and Rick Bragg scandals took credit for the resignations 10 days ago of Executive Editor Howell Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd.

"The blogosphere"--that's the rather unfortunate term of art for the global echo chamber that the bloggers have built for themselves--"in general created a growing chorus of criticism that helped create public awareness of exactly what Raines was up to," wrote Andrew Sullivan, the neoconservative former New Republic editor who maintains one of the most popular blogs and who has had it in for the Times for years.

"It pulled the curtain back on the man behind the curtain," he wrote. "We did what journalists are supposed to do--and we did it to journalism itself."

If it weren't for the blogs ruthlessly cataloging the internal dissent at the Times, Sullivan suggested, Raines and Boyd would have hung on to their jobs.

It takes a certain ego to relentlessly post your musings on virtually everything that comes across your field of vision, as Sullivan does on his Web site. So his wildly self-regarding assertion that he and a few other talented obsessives with high-speed Internet connections and too much time on their hands played a crucial role in the decision-making process of a multinational publishing behemoth with $3.1 billion a year in revenue should come as no surprise.

But if Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the Times' publisher, ever says, "I accepted Raines' resignation because of what I read on the Internet," I will eat my hat.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Err Jordan

Blogger triumphalism ran amok this morning on Howie Kurtz's little TV show, with Jeff Jarvis warning in menacing tones of the army of citizen-journalists at his back.

While I will allow that I am stunned at how effectively Hewitt et. al. managed to turn Jordan's immediately retracted (or half-retracted) comment into a hypenated gate, let's remember a few things:
  1. Eason Jordan was effectively fired 18 months ago. He had no budget authority. Nobody reported to him. He will not be replaced.
  2. He fucked up once before, with the NYT op-ed.
  3. Though it wasn't a big deal to most folks, his dalliance with Marianne Pearl was seen as unseemly inside CNN.
  4. He was an Atlanta-based figurehead at a time when every important job at CNN is migrating northward
That's why he's gone, not because of what the Internets think. I don't know yet exactly how it went down, but I imagine that he submitted his resignation to Walton because that's the right thing to do when you fuck up royally. If the foregoing points weren't the case, I doubt Walton would have accepted it. But given all of the complicating circumstances--that had nothing to do with Jarvis and his mob--it was easiest to cut him loose.

But he got a consolation prize--Sharon Stone. You heard it here first.