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Saddest Ghost Lamp

Monday, November 28, 2005

Perkins "Can't Take the Lies"

In case you haven't seen it yet, Ken Parish Perkins talked to Richard Prince of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education last week. (You have my apologies for the Thanksgiving delay.) I don't really have anything to say about Perkins' comments, because he didn't really address me directly--that reference to the "bottomless pit of the internet" could be anyone! But I should note that a) Perkins denies that he cooked quotes--"I've never invented quotes, nor done anything like that"--and b), he denies that he was removed from his post as TV critic.

Regarding a): Bob Sirott and Steve Brill both told me, on the record, that Perkins quoted them saying things that they did not, in fact, say. In Sirott's case, he first made the charge on the air on his television show on the morning the story in question appeared, the charge was picked up at the time in the Chicago Reader, and the Chicago Tribune published a correction contending that Perkins treated paraphrased material as direct quotes. In Brill's case, Brill told me that he called his friend (and my former boss, and my wife's current boss) Jim Warren, then the Tribune's Washington bureau chief, to alert him to Perkins' inventions. Warren confirmed that account to Richard Prince in this post.

Regarding b): This is what Perkins said about his departure from the Tribune:
"They didn't remove me from the TV critic's post," he continued. "I said let me take some time to think about this." When he returned, "They said, 'we want you to work nights in Metro.' They just wanted me to leave."
I think it's self-evident that Perkins' account is not internally consistent. Being asked to work nights in Metro and being removed from the critic's post are the same thing.

And If Osama Gave Her Some "Face Time," He'd Forget All About Those 72 Virgins

Barbara Walters, on Larry King Live Monday night, pitching the upcoming "Ten Most Fascinating People of 2005" show and explaining the criteria for making the list:
LARRY KING: Nobody infamous--so you won't do, like Time magazine did Hitler as man of the year once.


KING: Someone who had a profound effect. You wouldn't do Saddam Hussein?


KING: But if he gave you the interview, would you do him?

WALTERS: Oh, I would do him for hours and hours and hours.

Monday, November 21, 2005

How the Chicago Tribune Swept a Fabricator Under the Rug

UPDATE UPDATE: Sirott called. He said *gulp* Miner had it right. He talked to Perkins, in person. "Ken had talked to me," Sirott says. "I think he even came to my office. But there were these innocuous, bizarre quotes that made me look like an idiot. I called [former Tribune TV critic and Sirott pal Rick] Kogan and said, 'I never even said this.' I had never experienced anything like it before or since. Ken had actually recorded the conversation--that was why this was so baffling. I remember people being very upset when it turned out that tape wasn't around. As I recall, that started to cost Ken a little blood."

UPDATE: Contrary to what is posted below (and what a source told me), Perkins did in fact interview Bob Sirott. He just, according to Sirott, made up quotes. Here's a contemporaneous item from *gulp* Mike Miner, helpfully e-mailed to me by a reader, that discusses the flap. (The Chicago Reader's archives are behind a paywall, so no link).
Ken Parish Perkins, the Tribune's new TV critic, watched two weeks of tapes of Fox Thing in the Morning, then published his judgment of the show's host, Bob Sirott.

"Call me too new and too naive," wrote Perkins, "but I like the guy."

Sirott was touched, but not speechless. He responded on camera with a lecture wrapped in the cheery, steely smile that names in this town get to inflict on newcomers who aren't names.

"I appreciate the fact that in today's Tribune the new TV critic, Ken Parish Perkins, writing in Tempo, likes me. And I do appreciate that. But Ken, I'd rather have you dislike me than misquote me."

Sirott's audience, as Perkins's article pointed out, is a small one. But among his viewers that morning were Rick Kogan, the editor of Tempo and Perkins's predecessor as TV critic, and Karen Olson, the Tribune's TV editor. This was not pleasant to see.

"There's a line here"--Sirott was maneuvering the morning paper now--"let me find it, that I didn't say. I didn't say this, and I never have said this. And you know the guy had a tape recorder, and it was on--I saw the red light. But for some reason this line is in Ken's piece."

Sirott read the line. "But we also try and remember [that] this is a conversation conducted through the airwaves. We like to make people laugh one minute and cry the next."

Sirott looked Chicago square in the eye. "And I never said that. Are you crying? I don't really want to make you cry. I really don't." Then he was speaking to Perkins again. "But if you don't print accurately what I say, then I think we should use the two hours to devote to your column."

And he laughed. A Tribune editor might call the laugh chilling.
As I note below, two folks who were Tribune editors at the time told me that Perkins refused to hand over the tape.

ORIGINAL POST: Ken Parish Perkins, the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's television critic, resigned Friday after an internal investigation found that he had plagiarized from Entertainment Weekly and other publications.

It isn't the first time Perkins has been bounced from a job after allegations that he cooked stories. He was briefly the Chicago Tribune’s TV critic in 1994. And according to my sources there, he was let go in part for allegedly inventing quotes, including running an interview the subject of which insisted never took place. The Tribune let him go quietly, without alerting readers or, apparently, his next employer that he had a history of fabricating stories.

In April of 1993, just weeks after he'd been hired, Perkins filed a story on Bob Sirott, at the time a morning-show host on Chicago's Fox affiliate. Sirott apparently liked the story, which included several quotes attributed to him. But he said that he'd never spoken to Perkins. "This is a real nice column, but I never talked to the guy," Sirott told editors at the paper, according to a souce at the Tribune. (Sirott didn't return my phone calls.)

When Tribune editors confronted Perkins, he said that he'd spoken to Sirott at a group function of some sort, and that he had a tape. After repeated inquiries, Perkins never produced the tape. The story was eventually corrected, though not to reflect Sirott's contention that he'd never even been interviewed: "Some comments by Bob Sirott in a review of his new 'Fox Thing in the Morning' in Wednesday's Tempo section were reported incorrectly. A statement about making people laugh or cry was a paraphrase of comments made during the interview and appeared out of context. The Tribune regrets the error."

In July of that year, Perkins wrote a story on Court TV's coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial featuring several quotes from--wait for it--then-Court TV chief and future failed press watchdog (and boss to me and my wife) Steve Brill.

"He did a story about me--a very positive, complimentary column," recalls Brill. "I called Jim Warren"--a friend of Brill's, and now the deputy managing editor for features--"and said, 'I am not complaining, but I never said the stuff he has me saying.' I remember Warren saying, 'That's interesting, because we've been wondering about that.'"

The Court TV story was never corrected.

Perkins was removed from the critic job in December of 1994, ostensibly to get more reporting experience in Metro. He declined the demotion and left the Tribune shortly thereafter. His editor at the time was Gary Dretzka, now an L.A.-based freelanceer. Via e-mail, Dretzka says he can't legally discuss Parish's tenure at the Tribune, saying only, "He wasn't a good fit."

More than ten years later, evidently, Perkins is still having trouble fitting in. If the Tribune had been forthright about his shortcomings as an honest journalist back then, they may have gotten him whatever help he needed to rehabilitate himself. At the very least, they would have saved the editors, and readers, of the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram a big headache.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Mickey Kaus, Opinion Maoist

Equality is back, baby! This is a week old, but in catching up on some reading I was struck by Mickey Kaus' comments to Joseph Nocera about TimesSelect, which Kaus has been venting about for weeks:
There are other, more philosophical, objections as well. Mickey Kaus, an unrelenting critic of TimesSelect who writes the popular kausfiles blog for the Slate online magazine, told me recently that he had no particular objection to paying for Internet content. ''What I object to,'' he said, ''is the idea that The New York Times is essentially saying that its columnists' opinions are so much superior to everyone else's that they are going to charge for it.''
How dare they! I presume that Kaus, burning and wild-eyed with the inner flame of newfound egalitarianism--From Each According to Opinion, to Each According to Interest--will no doubt be distributing his next book free of charge, and avoiding any avenues for the dissemination of his opinions that carry the stench of superiority produced when one accepts currency in exchange for punditry. Down With the Opinion Aristocracy!

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Mike Miner's Sleuthing Secrets Revealed!

Chicago Reader "newspaper critic" Mike Miner has sources everywhere. Take a look at his end-of-column blurb on the firing of Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer and editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez, wherein he gives his humble readers a glimpse into how he keeps his finger on the pulse of the massive, nation-spanning media conglomerate that calls his city home:
A new publisher sent from Chicago fired the Los Angeles Times's conservative, Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, Michael Ramirez. For balance and greater savings, he also fired a liberal columnist, Robert Scheer.

I first heard about this from my sister in Pasadena, who thought she got her money's worth from both of them. She said the firings made her understand for the first time that her hometown paper had been bought.
Look out, Tribune Co.! I hear Miner's got an uncle in Orlando and a couple cousins on Long Island, too. He's got you covered!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

And By "Successor," I Mean "Wildly More Successful Television Program."

From Bill Carter's check-in with HBO in today's New York Times (surprise! HBO's doing great!):
In the meantime, [HBO chairman Chris] Albrecht defends HBO, saying it still sets much of the agenda for quality television. "You have seen the supposed successor to 'Sex and the City' be on a broadcast network," he said, "if indeed 'Desperate Housewives' is the successor, which I don't believe creatively it is - maybe from an audience point of view it is."
Number of people who watched the series finale of "Sex and the City": 10.6 million

Number who watched "Desperate Housewives" last week: 25.9 million

Fair Is Fair

A new Wall Street Journal poll has President Bush's negative rating at 65 percent, with just 34 perecent in his corner. Except: What the Journal calls "negative" includes respondents who said the president is doing a "fair or poor" job.

Since when is "fair" negative? Doesn't fair mean OK? Not spectacular, but also not lying and incompetent and insular and lacking in language skills?

Call it approval deflation. The WSJ pollsters are buying into the Bushies' Manichean, dualist world-view by insisting that everyone's opinion of the man can be reduced to pass/fail. But as Bush so effortlessly demonstrated throughout his pre-presidential career, many of us are more than capable of a so-so job. And we count. When someone tells me that a story I did was "OK"--happens all the time!--I quite reasonably infer that they didn't like it so much, but also that they didn't hate it. If a market research survey found that 65 percent of this blog's readers (all eight of you) rated it as "fair"--well, fair is better than "poor," right?

Don't get me wrong. If you think Bush is doing a fair job, you are an idiot. (Sorry Dad). But some portion of the public rates his performance as fair, and to lump those assessments in with those who think he's doing a poor job under the banner "negative" does a disservice to mediocrity. Sometimes it's OK to be OK.

Los Angeles Times is Cutting 85 Newsroom Jobs

Memo from Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet:
Nov. 16, 2005
To the Editorial Staff
From Dean Baquet

I very much regret to announce that The Times will have to lose about 85 newsroom jobs before the end of the year. A few of the cuts have already been made through attrition. Some will come through a voluntary separation program. But others, unfortunately, will come through layoffs. The exact breakdown won't be known until we see how many people apply for the voluntary separation package.

You all know that this is a rough year for newspapers. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have also announced significant cuts in staff or expenses. Other Tribune newspapers are making similar reductions in response to rising newsprint costs and concerns over a continuing decline in revenue.

Still, this is our second straight year of staff reductions, and this is a painful announcement to make. It is one I've worked hard to avoid.

I'm aware that the newsroom has been anxiously waiting some announcement, and that this has created much distress. But it doesn' t show in our paper. I can' t tell you how grateful I am for the tremendous work every department has done throughout an uncertain time.

Just as I'm not forgetting what you have accomplished in the past few months, neither should you. The Katrina coverage matched the epic nature of the story. The foreign staff and the Washington bureau have continued their compelling coverage of the war and its domestic repercussions. Steve Lopez and the metro investigative unit have changed laws and institutions. The paper has produced hard-hitting exclusives on the problems at the Getty, and the liver transplant program at UC Irvine. Features continues to provide cutting edge coverage of culture and the arts.

We just published another great local investigative series, the conservators project. Other major projects are about to land, from almost every department of the paper. We've finished a major redesign of the magazine, and we're rebuilding the Orange County operation. In essence, we are making big bets on the future even as we are being forced to cut.

Due to financial pressures, we are on a very short timeframe, and people will only have until 5 p.m. Nov. 25 to apply for a separation package. After that, we will decide which positions must be eliminated through layoffs.

Information about the separation program will be available online later today. Susan Denley is organizing some meetings for editorial staff members to answer questions about the separation program over the next few days. She and Senior Manager Oracio Galindo of the Human Resources Department will try to help in any way they can. Susan will follow up later today with a note laying out more details.

Despite these cuts, nothing will keep us from chasing the biggest stories. And we simply can't lose sight of our ambitions to compete as one of the country ' s great newspapers. We have the second largest newsgathering staff in the country--and the best. Working with Jeff, we will handle these staff reductions as humanely as possible, and with an eye toward avoiding cuts that hamper our core mission of providing powerful stories and photography.

The Times is the most resilient newspaper in the country. It is one of the reasons we love it. We're in for a few difficult weeks, but we will get through this.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Also, When the Economics Department Fired Milton Friedman in the 1930s? You Know Why? Coastie.

Emily Bach, a freshman at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, recognized her friends' Halloween costumes immediately - jackets by The North Face, oversize sunglasses, sheepskin boots known as Uggs.

"They went as Coasties," Bach explained, chuckling over lunch in a cafeteria.
In my day at Wisconsin, folks just wore red horns, a long white beard, a skullcap, and carried a special bread made from the blood of Christian infants. Things were so much simpler then.

[Thanks Joel.]

Just In Time For Christmas!

Word is going out from section editors at the Chicago Tribune: The effort to cut budgets through attrition has failed (I did my part). Now all the editors have been instructed to look at "paper and personnel." There is no official buyout offer on the table, but section editors have been told to spread the terms--two weeks' salary per year of employment, maximum one year--and encourage interested parties to inquire. If that doesn't net enough savings, official buyouts will be announced. If that doesn't work, paper and personnel.

They hope to get it done in three weeks. Happy holidays.

Tomorrow's Corrections Today (With Apologies to Gawker)

From Alessandra Stanley's story on Oprah Winfrey's 20th anniversary on the air:
Ms. Winfrey was born into poverty in Mississippi and refers to herself as a "former colored girl." Like another prominent African-American, Condoleezza Rice, Ms. Winfrey owes her distinctive first name to a spelling error: she was supposed to be named Orpah, after a figure in the Book of Ruth, but someone transposed the letters at the registry.
From a 1989 Washington Post profile of Rice, containing the earliest Nexis-able reference to the derivation of her name: "Her name was derived from the musical notation con dolcezza -- sweetly."

A 1999 National Review profile of Rice makes the point more directly: "Her mother, a pianist, was thinking of the musical direction con dolcezza, or 'with sweetness'; for her only child, she composed a variation on it."

This Times of London profile from last year says Rice's mother "crafted the name Condoleezza from the Italian musical notation 'con dolcezza' (with sweetness)."

"Derived," "composed," "crafted": I suppose it's entirely possible that Rice's mother--a pianist--attempted to name her daughter Condolcezza, but made (or allowed a bureaucrat to make) a spelling error that rendered the attempt a failure, resulting in the bastardized Condoleezza. But for some reason, I think I'll take the above accounts, as well as the dozens of others in Nexis that suggest the transformation from con dolcezza to Condoleezza was purposeful (it is a slightly more natural sounding name), over Stanley's. I wonder what the good Dr. Rice will have to say about it.

In other news, it's kind of fun to say Orpah.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Who Needs Speechwriters When You've Got Islamo-Fascists to Supply Your Applause Lines?

From the National Review Online's transcript of Bush's speech Friday:
Some might be tempted to dismiss these goals as fanatical or extreme. They are fanatical and extreme — but they should not be dismissed. Our enemy is utterly committed. As Zarqawi has vowed, "We will either achieve victory over the human race or we will pass to the eternal life." (Applause.)
Maybe the audience wasn't paying attention and thought that was Bush's sentiment. Sounds like something he would say.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Come On, Bob! All the Cool Kids Are Doing It!

Judith Miller in July: "If journalists cannot be trusted to keep confidences, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press."

Judith Miller on Larry King tonight: "You know, I think it's somewhat odd that Mr. Novak has remained so quiet all these months about who it was, those two administration officials who gave him the name of Valerie Plame that led to that column that has caused so much adventure for the rest of us.... [N]ow that everyone else has said who their source was, pretty much, or almost everyone else, and what the information they were given was, since Mr. Novak started it all, I'd really be curious to know from him who the sources were...."

Less Sex. More Bullshit.

Hey--did you know that the Kaiser Family Foundation just came out with a study showing that depictions of sexual intercourse on television are down by three percentage points over the past three years? And that, on average, the depictions of sexual behavior on TV are less explicit than they were in 2002? Good news, huh? I guess Janet Jackson's nipple really got the job done, and those soulless bastards running Hollywood finally got the message about what American families in the Heartland want to see on television.

Well, that's one way of looking at it. The Washington Post looked at it this way: "Television More Oversexed Than Ever, Study Finds." The Los Angeles Times: "Television Awash In Sex, Study Says." The Chicago Sun-Times: "Sex Scenes on TV Nearly Double."

The reason for the breathless prudishness is that the Kaiser Family Foundation writes a good headline-grabbing press release. "The number of sexual scenes on television has nearly doubled since 1998, according to Sex on TV 4, a biennial study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation," the Foundation wrote. "The study found that 70% of all shows include some sexual content, and that these shows average 5.0 sexual scenes per hour, compared to 56% and 3.2 scenes per hour respectively in 1998, and 64% and 4.4 scenes per hour in 2002."

Here's what the release didn't say: In studying an average week of television--including HBO, a movie service that a vast minority of Americans subscribe to--Kaiser defined a "sexual scene" as any scene containing "any depiction of sexual activity, sexually suggestive behavior, or talk about sexuality or sexual activity." Sexual activity, by the study's lights, would include a "passionate kiss" as well as "physical flirting"--which would encompass, the study says, "a woman licking her lips provocatively while looking suggestively at a man."

Talk about sex or sexual activity includes, according to the study's methodological overview, "any reference to illegal sex acts" and any dialogue that referred to "reproductive issues" or "sexually transmitted diseases."

In other words, when a Dateline NBC story on Natalee Holloway speculates that she could have been raped--that's a sexual scene. When a husband gets home from work and kisses his wife--sexual scene. When a female character mentions that she's on the pill--sexual scene. When a character complains in passing about how they haven't had sex in months--sexual scene. And if you're lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a woman licking her lips--well, sir, you've just watched yourself a sexual scene. Hope you enjoyed it.

The study naturally lumped all of these wildly divergent and often perfectly bland references to sexuality in with the traditional ass-shots of David Caruso and found that "sexual scenes" have nearly doubled and 70 percent of shows have sexual content.

Funny how "sexual scenes" gets shortened to "sex scenes" by headline writers.

As I mentioned above, when you look at things that normal people think of as "sex scenes" and "sexual content," the study found that there are an average of 2 scenes depicting "sexual behavior" each hour, down from 2.1 in 2002. When it comes to actual sexual intercourse, 11 percent of shows contained sex scenes, down from 14 percent in 2002. The number of sex scenes logged was down dramatically--147, versus 200 in 2002. And television is more chaste than it was in 2002--the average level of explicitness of sexual behavior depicted, based on a subjective 4-point scale, was .9, down from 1.1 in 2002.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Irresponsible Gossip

I'm too busy/lazy/not getting paid for this to try and run any of this down, but ominous rumblings are emanating from the Tribune Tower. Rumble a) is that layoffs and/or buyouts are imminent at the Chicago Tribune. Rumble b) is that layoffs and/or buyouts are imminent at the Los Angeles Times. Rumble c) is that layoffs and or/buyouts are imminent in Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons' office.

How Fox Gets the Exclusives

Early last month, on the first Sunday after his indictment, Fox News Channel managed to keep DeLay from creepily protesting his innocence on competing news outlets long enough to call his Fox News Sunday appearance an "exclusive."

Also exclusive were his travel arrangements. According to a disclosure form filed by DeLay, Fox News Channel paid just under $14,000 for a private jet to take DeLay from Texas to Washington, D.C., and back. That's about half an assistant producer's annual salary, just four days after DeLay appeared on "Hannity & Colmes" and almost any other show that would have him.

But it was clearly money well-spent, just so Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace could actually get DeLay in the studio, look him in the eye, and take his measure. Just for kicks, I went back to look at some of the questions that Wallace grilled him with that day. Here's a Fox News Channel $14,000 interview for you (these are all questions Wallace asked, cherry-picked by me without regard to fairness or balance. In his defense, he also asked some tougher questions, but a softball is a softball is a softball).
Are you done as a major force in Congress?

How quickly do you think you can beat this case?

Will you continue to raise millions of dollars?

Will you continue to help set strategy and push party discipline on the House floor?

So you're going to continue to help run the show in the House even from the wings?

There's been a lot of criticism from supporters and opponents of you that the indictment that Ronnie Earle has presented so far is pretty thin, doesn't state a lot of facts on it.

Any apologies for the way you do business?

Did you really think that Abramoff, who you say was one of your close friends and a big-time lobbyist, who was along on this trip -- did you really believe he had nothing to do with paying for this trip?

Sir, how do you respond to conservatives who say it's time for you to go?

And on a personal level, Tom DeLay will be back?
[via Eric]

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Hey, Listen to Me. I'm on the Stereo.

My interview yesterday on "848" is online here, if you want to listen. Which you do. Right now. My segment starts at the 16-minute mark.