Saturday, December 25, 2010

Saturday, December 11, 2010

WikiPiques: Let’s All Just Calm Down

The pariah du jour to the United States and the countries who do business with it is one Julian Assange, a soft-spoken Australian whose motives may be obscure but whose life work is pretty clear. The founder of WikiLeaks, Assange is the whistleblower’s whistleblower, enabling the disclosure of anything in digital form — which, in the age of the Internet, is everything.

The drama to marginalize/silence/demonize Assange is playing out like a (bad) Hollywood script, but the stakes — to commerce, to free speech, to the freedom of the Internet — are quite real. It’s a good time to take a deep breath.

While critics portray Assange as the sort of caricature you’d expect to see as Batman’s arch nemesis he actually hews more to the suave Bond villain (sex scandal and all) — an international man of mystery whose calm demeanor is incongruous with a determination to blow things up.

Friday, December 3, 2010

So, Here's A Twitter Question For Ya ...

Ordinarily I would Tweet this question — but my question is about a potential Tweet I haven't been able to make, despite several attempts on two occasions a week apart.

So I am going old school, a blog post, to whisper in Times Square to be heard in Budapest.

Here is the text of the Tweet that will not be posted:
"M" is for the merriment you give me. "A" is for the ass that I become. "R" is are you having a martini? Yes.
Okay, I know it's trite. Looking at it, it's like the joke you have to explain. Cute by 1/2. Let's all look past that please.

Why has this Tweet been, apparently systematically, suppressed?

I know what you're thinking. I replaced "ass" with symbols, dots and a cute by 1/2 "[REDACTED]. No soap.

So I have been reduced to subterfuge. This post will automatically post to Twitter, with a URL and a headline designed to create interest.

If anyone knows what might be the reason this particular string of 110 characters are fated to spend eternity in purgatory, I'd love to hear from ya.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Do: ‘Objectivity’ in the Age of the Internet

Alan Mutter, a media critic who is both wise and smart, has pointed to the elephant in the room: journalists aren’t objective. Can’t be, really (though many try). But their biases are so mundane, he argues, that these collections of predilections and conflict-appearing life facts certainly don’t disqualify the conscientious ones from being respected reporters — if the rest of us know about them instead of treating them like the insane aunt you won’t admit is locked in the cellar.

Mutter notes that the history of journalism is about partisanship, driven by newspaper owners with agendas. “Objectivity was not their objective,” he says. But it’s no accident that the internet — blogs, Facebook, Twitter — has accelerated the discussion not only of who is a journalist but how “objective” a journalist has to be.

Full post at Epicenter.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Congratulations to the New ONA Board!

I wasn't able to make a case for myself, but the Online News Association will not be the worse for it -- from an extraordinary field a stellar new board has been elected.

The full story is here, but congratulations to Josh Hatch of USA Today, Robert Hernandez of the University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and Will Sullivan of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who begin two-year terms on the eight-member board on Jan. 1.

My one regret? While participation was up 14% this year, only 371 of the 1,816 eligible members cast ballots. That is a paltry 20.43% turnout.

I'd love it if the board undertook some kind of initiative to increase participation. Here's one humble idea. It's from a loser, so take it for what it's worth:

The annual ONA conference sells out these days, with 800 attendees — more than twice as many as voted this year. The vast majority are eligible members. Candidates for the board candidates are invited to attend and introduce themselves. Seems like a perfect opportunity to gently ensure massive voter participation. Members who don't attend can cast what amount to absentee ballots by e-mail.

The ONA has done wonders increasing membership in the past few years but as we are all reminded it is a volunteer organization — there are two employees, including the executive director. All committee work and most of the outreach are done by members, some of whom are on the board, and some who aren't.

Seems to me the least we can do is vote, and I for one have no problem being shamed into it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Running For A Seat On the ONA Board


I've been a member of the Online News Association for a number of years, spanning my time at Reuters and now at Wired.com. I've also done a lot of head-shaking about the state of our industry, enough so that I think I should at least try be part of the solution.

So, I'm trying a little of that by running for a seat on the ONA board. Competition is very stiff this year -- apparently there are many others who reached this epiphany at the same time as I. This is a good thing, because no matter who gets elected the ONA will be a stronger organization.

My candidate's statement is below, but I also encourage you to read those of the other (record-setting!) 21 people -- a total of six incumbents, and 16 new faces -- vying for seven seats.
____
Bio
I am Wired.com's New York City bureau chief, and direct our business and disruptive media coverage. Prior to joining Wired.com I was at Reuters, where my tenure was evenly split between pre-and post-internet eras. I began a traditional career as a reporter, editor and bureau chief. Later I built the internet's first real-time news feed, created Reuters' multimedia desk and was the founding editor of reuters.com. For an all-too brief period I was media manager at the Committee for Concerned Journalists, where, among other things, I did media criticism. A graduate of Stuyvesant High School and New York University, I live in Westchester County, New York, with my wife and daughter.

Vision for ONA
We are always at a crossroads, right?

The Online News Association has always tried to lift the boats (and spirits) of our print-oriented colleagues by both warning about, and extolling the virtues of, an inevitable digital future. For a long time this was an internal "us” and "them” discussion. The balance of power in newsrooms, and the sense of urgency among print media professionals, moved erratically between optimism (often undue) and despair (often overdone).

But now, even as the future remains unclear and such new opportunities as mobile in general and tablets in particular appear, we have almost proven our point too well.

Is there such a thing as online news anymore? Is there an old media, and thus a new? Can a newsroom possibly be effective if it isn’t "converged?”

I live at today’s crossroads. Condé Nast is still a print giant but is also accelerating into that uncertain digital future, placing big bets on the iPad and taking significant steps to alter its digital DNA.

Wired.com is a traditional news shop when it comes to journalism values, ethics and commitment. But we are a very driven team that embraces the best practices of what the digital era: Savvy use of social media, awareness of the tides and eddies of SEO and, above all, total engagement with the audience before, during and after we publish anything.

We need to obliterate the walls between ourselves and the community from which we draw strength and frankly, 100% of the information we sometimes snobbishly assume we have divined from thin air. This isn’t an abdication of responsibility but rather an acceptance of how it has always been -- an altered state the digital age has finally allowed us fully appreciate.

I’m a seasoned journalist, strategist and tactician who is eager to help lead the ONA’s efforts to help our membership navigate these waters. I believe in über communication, transparency and crowdsourcing. Besides living this I have spoken in many forums on the digital media from college classrooms to network television.

As everyone becomes an online journalist -- like it or not -- we have much tradition to maintain. But we have always adapted while maintaining our core principles. Perhaps these times seem more fearsome, and that is what drives some to the sanctuary of the known.

I know better. I know we need to do less of some old things, and more of some new. I know we need to stop appearing to be imperious, and yet leave no doubt about our authority and credibility. I know we need to stop treating the audience like amateurs while leaving emphasizing that there is no substitute for professionalism.

So, is this a crossroads? Maybe not. Maybe if your eyes get used to the light, you clearly see the path forward. I believe the ONA is an indispensable resource. By increasing outreach and participation and helping to make ONA part of the conversation every day I hope to be part of its great work.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Politics, Viral Media and the Chilling Effect on Stupid

Does a politician on the campaign trail have any expectation of privacy? It's almost a silly question. But some pretty smart politicos have behaved as if there is more than one answer: Michael Steele is learning this, but unsuccessful Virginia Senatorial candidate George Allen and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown learned it the hard way.

Now California gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown seems to be shocked shocked that there's video recording going on here.

Continue reading on wired.com's Epicenter blog

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Facebook Privacy Week (Month, Year ...)



My very first appearance on Reuters television.

VICTORY IS MINE!!!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lost in Translation: Rewrite the Last Page

Spoiler alert: This article assumes you’ve seen what passed for a final episode.

If you’re like me, Sunday night’s Lost series finale may not have exactly hit the spot. Sure, everyone’s dead — and some might say not a moment too soon. Well, nearly everyone: Inscrutable Ben Linus isn’t “ready” to “move on” and is left to his own devices right outside that multi-denominational church where the high school reunion from hell is going on. So, naturally, the dramatic plot device we are thinking of is: Blockbuster Feature Film.

I made my disappointment about the trajectory of final season clear in a post on my personal blog three weeks ago, so I won’t dwell on the ultimate dramatic sin of the series: Since anything is possible, nothing is impossible.

Continue reading on Wired.com's Underwire blog

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Unbearable Lightness of Lost


The first sign that I had lost my edge came without warning: I Tivo'd Lost on Tuesday, when I was unable to watch the show in real-time for the first time ever, and then was in no real hurry to see it. I'm now the weary gambler who won't fold because he secretly wants to lose, and betting on an indifferent hand hastens that perverted joy.

A lot of people died this week on Lost -- only white people survived, a friend observes, and the suicide bomber was an Arab, she also noted. Well, Sayid is Iranian and thus Persian, but at this point, on this show, which purports to be all about the details, this slight twist on an cheap cliché seems like an inconsequential inside joke.

Even death provides no finality in this bloated final season. Jacob says he can't bring people back to life and the seemingly untrustworthy Man in Black promises he can. But of course, nobody is ever really dead on Lost, because people can time travel and reunite in the past and also alter the future (with evidently imperfect effectiveness). And, anyway, Hurley can talk to dead people -- or pretend he has.

So what are we to say when Sayid and Jin selflessly make the supreme sacrifice, for love? Later, dude?

I think what really upsets me is that the creative forces behind Lost have miscalculated the value of "Anything is possible." It anything is possible, nothing is impossible. And when nothing is impossible, whatever happens has zero impact. Lost has created a huge appetite among a dwindling but committed fan base for answers, and at this point it no longer matters. That is the cost of having no canon; there is no need to hew to the nuance of a thousand delimiting historical "facts."

There is a strong religious theme playing out (or, sigh, so it would seem) but Lost has literally become the Bible: there are no fixed truths, lots of confused, needy, susceptible people living in caves and so many vague non sequiturs that it says exactly what you want it to.

And like the Bible, the only counter-argument is that Lost is not an the inspired word of God but the work of humans, which, of course, the Bible teaches us are flawed.

But SciFi needs rules, as well as faith. Certain things are impossible on Star Trek, for all of its imagination and invention. Lucasfilm employs a Star Wars continuity cop named Leeland Chee who keeps track of "thousands of years of story time, running through all the bits and pieces of merchandise" to protect the viability of that franchise. The boys on the Big Bang Theory can correct you in Klingon and argue about String Theory and make them seem equivalent.

Lost, meanwhile, has become a prime time soap with the worst daytime attribute: Nobody (Jack) ever asks the obvious question any intelligent person (neurosurgeon) would, settling something once and for all instead of staring as if lobotomized as we cut to commercial.

Lost is bound by nothing now, and that makes it uninteresting, by any definition.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Reuters Opinion 2.0

Reuters waded into the waters of opinion and analysis against a very strong tide: An iron-clad policy of doing nothing that could conceivably open the 150-year-old news agency to the charge it was not absolutely free from bias. In the not-yet three years since Reuters columnists began taking sides on stories Reuters reporters were covering, a breakthrough I called "Reuters Opinion 1.0," its global reporting power has only grown.

But Thomson Reuters CEO Tom Glocer seemed to complicate the question of institutional ambivalence with a post on his personal blog in which he inveighed against a "rush to judgment" concerning financial giant Goldman Sachs and a civil complaint by the SEC which accuses the Wall Street behemoth of fraud.

Glocer states an obvious fact: Goldman is guilty of nothing until the company is found guilty of something, or agrees that it broke a rule or regulation.

But now comes an object lesson into why this may not have been the best idea: News that federal prosecutors are now investigating the company prompted a rush to judgment on Wall Street as investors shot Goldman shares down 10% to a nine-month low.

Of course, Glocer's message is still valid and correct and (irony noted) probably not directed at the markets, whose amorphous, amoral, extralegal and essentially unchallenged power to literally take sides at all times on anything is precisely what Reuters' business is based upon (to say nothing of the basis of the broad charge that Wall Street created or at least exacerbated the global financial meltdown.)

I've lauded Glocer for being among the few CEOs who actually does blog. It is genuinely bold and refreshing: He has an unusually high burden to bear since he is not only a material person who can't say certain things publicly but the head of a media company which takes extraordinary pride in its impartiality.

So the problem isn't really that he's taken the side of a concept enshrined in the U.S. Constitution but that he picked this fight to take that stand -- a fast-breaking story being covered aggressively by people who report up to him who already know that they aren't supposed to pre-judge anything. And it doesn't help that Goldman is a major client -- at the very least an inconvenient truth.

Criticism when the context was only the sleepyish SEC civil case came quickly, from expected and unexpected quarters. The union representing US reporters seized upon the incident to renew its call for an ombudsman to advocate for editorial. The New York Times stepped in to say that Glocer's post was "an unusual step for a media executive." Michael Reupke, a former Reuters editor in chief and general manager, had much stronger language: "outrageous and inadmissible."

"Are the Trustees too sleepy to think of stepping in here?" Reupke wrote in a letter to "The Baron," a social network for current and former Reuters employees. "If this had happened in my day I doubt whether he could have survived in his job."

I'm inclined to think that there is nothing sinister going on, even though the atmospherics are terrible: Defending Wall Street, which pays many Reuters bills, as it digs it way out of the worst PR challenge since tainted Tylenol. The first non-editorial person to run the company in modern times, he screws the pooch in a way no Reuters journalist without a death wish could even imagine.

The Goldman story will play out for some time and there will be lots of opinions expressed about the company's comportment from all sides. In fact, Glocer need look no further for judge-and-jury-like conclusions than "The Great Debate" blog on reuters.com. Like in this post, from veteran columnist James Saft:
"Regardless of whether the actions of Goldman meet a legal hurdle of fraud, they very easily clear a very low hurdle of immoral and unethical behavior. Seriously, would you let these guys repair your car or treat your house for termites?"
And that's the point. The hue and cry of the masses -- and even by British Prime Minister Gorden Brown, whom Glocer singles out for excess -- are not part of the process Glocer wants to protect, unless one is to believe that the SEC will be persuaded by the likes of Jon Stewart.

Goldman will get its day and its due and is still powerful enough to do as well as is humanly possible in their legal tussles no matter what the world thinks of them.

As Saft notes in that same column:
So remind me, why will clients continue to do business with Goldman Sachs?

I know, it is a stupid question; investors and corporations will continue to do business with Goldman even after the bank has been charged with an alleged fraud for the same reasons they always have: because they hope, like every gambler, to beat stacked odds and because they flatter themselves that they are not the sucker at the table.

Conan Says He Wouldn't Have Pulled a Leno

Conan O'Brien tells 60 Minutes that, had their rolls been reversed, he would not have returned to The Tonight Show if it meant pushing out Jay Leno.

I thought as much three months ago.

"He went and took that show back and I think in a similar situation, if roles had been reversed, I know -- I know me, I wouldn't have done that," O'Brien tells 60 Minutes interviewer Steve Kroft, as reported by TV Newser.

"If I had surrendered The Tonight Show and handed it over to somebody publicly and wished them well -- and then...six months later. But that's me. Everyone's got their own, you know, way of doing things."

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Twitter Goes Mad (Men)


Twitter started selling ads -- sort of -- in a modest attempt to get the Twitterati used to the idea that the start-up, valued at $1 billion based on private placements, is entitled to make serious money. So far, the sky hasn't fallen.

Twitter doesn't need to make a lot, operationally. The company has fewer than 200 employees and manages a sea of servers. Tech support, marketing and maybe one HR person.

In an interview with BBC radio, I talked about what Twitter is doing, what they aren't doing, and what they might do. I might have used the "dip their beak" metaphor instead, if I had thought of it. But on second thought, I'm glad I didn't. Hate those forced metaphors.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Tiger's Crucible



Donny Deutch says it's "Brilliant" and since he's pretty brilliant himself that means more than a little something. The new Nike ad with Tiger Woods can be described in a number of other ways — "Jarring," "Attention-getting," "Bold," as well as "Crass," "Manipulative" and "Unfortunate."

Five of those adjectives, even the pejoratives, are probably fine with the Mad Men crowd, who dispassionately craft immersive messages that target our passions. The more difficult the message (Cigarettes are cool, Cars you can't drive as fast as they go on TV are cool, The Jonas Brothers are cool) the bigger the challenge and, when successful, the sweeter the victory.

Woods has re-entered the real world via the unreal world that is the Masters Tournament. This makes perfect sense to me, as do all of the things that deliver us to the place where we can drop the subject.

I am not sure who the audience is for this, though, and why Team Tiger must perpetuate an unfortunate pander that the public ought to have a say in how Woods behaves.

Woods is a business with human frailties who must, for the sake of business, do damage control. It truly is not personal, it's business. But it is also unseemly. He's is trapped in a scene from "The Crucible."

Of course it's right to be faithful. Woods made that promise to his wife, and promises are more important than the law: We make them because we want to, not because we have to. But relationships are an entirely private matter. When we give strangers discretion over our own choices we are just asking for such things as bans on gay marriage.

How's the ad? Great. Fantastic. Daring. Brilliantly produced. Elegant in its spare concept. Masterful in the use of Woods' lecturing, and deceased father, speaking in an entirely different context (or several?) who knows when.

What I see is a man humiliating himself for money. The ad proves that Woods is no longer able to do whatever he wants to do, because he used to. He hurt a finite number of people, all of whom he knows personally and none of whom need to see this video on YouTube in which Woods the younger gets second billing to his stern mentor.

Woods didn't cheat on and lie to me, but because other strangers wagged their fingers at him he has to at least act contrite for public consumption.

I would prefer a John Proctor moment. Or for the entire thing to just go away.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Get Unvarnished? Get Real.







A new site still in beta is getting a lot of attention as the next place you will want to protect your reputation — and put someone else's in "perspective."

But does free-flowing anonymous snark, the internet's second most vibrant activity (after porn) really need another enabler?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Put Up Or Shut Up: iPhone Users May Get A Choice Soon






Verizon, anyone?

The Wall Street Journal reports what may be the most convincing rumor yet that Apple is going to stray from long-time companion AT&T.

Who are the winners and losers? I talk about it on CNBC's Street Signs.

No fair guessing Steve Jobs (who always seems to have a winning hand) and Palm (which cannot catch a break)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Web Immoblization Hack is a Tech Non-Starter


A disgruntled former employee is charged with hacking into the company's web-based remote immobilization to disable about 100 cars bought by customers who agreed to the leash because their credit rating would have made it impossible otherwise to get financing.

The technology is an opt-in technique the company requires to insure the trust they have that credit-challenged buyers will make payments on time is not misplaced — as well the car the Repo Man will come looking for when they don't. But these Austin, Texas customers had done no wrong.

It was a foolish payback prank that made a bad situation even worse for 20-year-old Omar Ramos-Lopez, now under arrest for "computer intrusion." But is this a Big Brother threat? Not so much.

I talk it through with Celeste Headlee and John Hockenberry on 'The Takeway' (which, for this segment, should probably be called 'The Getaway.')

Original reporting by Kevin Poulsen on Wired.com's Threat Level. At 3:30 am PT, the hit would have been too unfriendly for Kev, so he signaled the bull pen for a right-coaster.

Facebook And Geo-Privacy Concerns



Facebook is getting in the geo-location business -- and make no mistake, a business it is. For FB, it's catch up to Foursquare and Twitter and Google, all of whom already have apps which convey from where you are texting your mind.

But just wait until you not only know what's around you, but who.

Digital Live with Shelly Palmer. My hit is at about the 4:36 mark.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Goodnight, And Good Luck, Jay Leno

Watching Jay Leno interviewed by Oprah, he cut a more sympathetic figure — people often do, even or especially when interrogated, which the Queen of talk did not. But Winfrey asked nearly all the right questions and got Leno to the precipice a couple of times, making the contours of the recent late night skirmish clearer and perhaps also, despite himself, his own motives.

Leno has enjoyed unique success but laudably remains a blue-collar guy, a lot like the younger one who left Massachusetts in a beat-up car, listening to James Taylor and wondering if anyone would hear from him again. And he probably really is the hardest working man in show business, spending something like 200 days on the road doing stand-up and revealing to Oprah that he lives on what he makes without his NBC salary — an astonishing fact given his expensive car hobby, to say the least.

In my psychobabble view I liken Leno to Regis Philbin, a genuine child of the Great Depression who has to work, always work, always save, because you never know when you will lose it all, just like that (after that the similarities pretty much end; years ago in a conversation on the air it became painfully apparent that Regis had no idea even that he drove Jaguar.)

So here is the problem: Leno accurately (in my view) said this mess was driven by interests of the affiliates, whom he has always studiously courted, and acknowledged that NBC itself was making money on his show by dramatically cutting costs for the 10 pm period (scripted episodes, Leno said, cost $3-$6 million per). The affiliates, though, were losing money because he was losing his time slot big time, and in TV Land affiliates are like real shareholders who can and should have significant say about network programming.

Leno also said that The Tonight Show's ratings were down about 50%, and that it was losing money for the first time in its 60-year franchise, and that this fact largely escaped press scrutiny probably because the better story was him, the future of television, cratering at 10.

So, the first circle I can't square is the apparent fact that, even though The Tonight Show was a bigger relative ratings bomb, it was the failure of The Jay Leno Show which got this snowball rolling, something Leno indirectly acknowledges with answers here and there is the case but doesn't accept square on, by returning again and again to the fact that Conan O'Brien wasn't doing well, and worse than him.

But by Leno's own account it wasn't a desire to do something about O'Brien, as poorly as he was doing in his first seven months against the well-established David Letterman. Indeed, the NBC master plan assumed O'Brien would stay — NBC was not engineering his ouster. They wanted to keep him. What they didn't want was Jay at 10 anymore, lowering the tide for The Tonight Show as much as it was for the affiliate 11 pm news shows.

Trying to keep O'Brien may have been based primarily on a desire to save a large severance rather than a gut feeling that he would become a good earner. But they tried to keep him — and Leno, per Leno, in a sort of cruel poetic justice of the same dynamic which caused the network to lose Letterman in 1982 as they tried to keep both late night hosts and picked Leno for "Tonight."

But still, NBC approached Leno first, and not with a plan to outright replace an O'Brien the network assumed would play ball. O'Brien's departure was not a fait accompli, or even contemplated. Leno could have walked, accepting the consequences of breaking his contract it sounds like NBC was on solid ground not to re-negotiate much, given the very public direness of the 10 pm situation, and become a sympathetic one-man Grateful Dead working the crowds he loves forever.

I've been there and done that, he could have laughed. Stop firing me and then coming to me to solve your problems, he could have told NBC in his own letter to the People of Earth.

My other problem is that, in the end, it seems that Leno and O'Brien were both presented with the exact same choice and decided in the exact opposite way. This is telling: O'Brien didn't want to be moved (and The Tonight Show to change it's start time for the first time in its 60-year history) but was determined to protect the financial interests of his staff, for whom he negotiated something like $12 million in severances.

This is probably enough for some to retire and for the others to hang on while finding something else in the business, or to re-invent themselves. As a person who was once given a generous buyout to leave my job, I can say that there is nothing ultimately more liberating than this — as great as it is not to have to worry about not having a job.

But, oh yeah, you always worry about that. In TV perhaps more than in any other business. In fact, I have always had a nagging sense of guilt about engineering a continuing situation for one person on my former staff instead of perhaps forcing the company to make him an offer of a buyout or a job. By doing so I gave myself and the company — and not him — the power.

So largess and concern can have unintended consequences or can, I now suspect about Leno, mask one's true motives. Leno was concerned about the fortunes of his staff, he told Oprah, and decided on their behalves that the right thing to do would be to ensure the continuity of their employment by ensuring his own.

It may be that concern for his staff (they are not his employees, because he does not own the show) was his over-riding consideration. He did pay them out of his pocket during the writer's strike, and pretty much devoted his last Tonight Show (well, so far) to what seemed like a family picnic. Anyway I believe he believes it, to paraphrase Leno when he playfully suggested to Oprah that she had no more intention of fading away with her announced retirement next year than he had now to take take this opportunity to leave the stage.

But, after this interview, I am not so sure. Leno is a decent guy, but flawed in a way the younger and less experienced but perhaps more confident O'Brien is not. Even though Leno initially asked to be let out of his contract when he told his 10 pm show would be canceled, any resolve to walk away, and then shame NBC to do right by his people as O'Brien did, disappeared.

I can only think of one reason why this is true.

[Transcript of the Oprah interview]

Thursday, January 21, 2010

John Edwards, Worst Person in the World


It's rare for someone in the moral cesspool that is often public life to be as utterly shameless as John Edwards, so I feel compelled to write a few things down to keep track of it all.

Let's see:
  • You have an adulterous affair with a woman, from the office, who is younger than your dying wife, whose incurable cancer is a matter of public record.
  • You apparently have unprotected sex with this woman. A child is born, and you deny paternity so she will read all about that in a few years.
  • You not only pointedly lie about all this but you convince or force other people step up to publicly support your lie.
  • You say you will take a paternity test you cannot be compelled to take and have no intention of taking because you know it will expose your lie, a litigator's trick that is slimy even by litigator standards.
  • All this is going on as you try to get elected president of the United States. Disclosure of your sins during the campaign or after your election would stigmatize your party in a way not seen since Richard Nixon made "Republican" a dirty word. You don't care about that, either.
  • When you finally come clean, under the back-breaking preponderance of evidence nobody but a birther could possibly construe any other way, you don't come clean yourself, but put another crony in front of the cameras to spill your guts. He refers to you as a liar, whooppee, while also saying how tough this has been on you.
  • You, meanwhile, while not spilling your guts, acting as if any of this is going on, or even appearing conflicted or contrite, blather on about Haiti, making your vanity now hemispheric as you use the death and hopelessness of millions of people a backdrop for your attempt to re-enter the human race.
  • You decide to put on this pathetic show in Haiti, where your presence on the ground will do nobody any good, and where I hope your televised remarks about how desperate things are there will be mashed up with your hair-coiffing embarrassment and displayed on the hacked version of a campaign site you haven't had the decency to update so it at least does not say:
"I began my presidential campaign here to remind the country that we, as citizens and as a government, have a moral responsibility to each other, and what we do together matters."
Have I missed something?

And I thought OJ had balls.

(With apologies to Keith Olbermann)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Journalist, Editor, Ombudsman Deborah Howell Dies At 68

Deborah Howell, a pioneering journalist who served in the sadly shrinking ranks of newspaper ombuds during a three-year tenure at the Washington Post, died in a road accident while vacationing in New Zealand.

Howell, 68, worked for both Minneapolis newspapers, ran one of them as it won two Pulitzer Prizes, and then became the Washington bureau chief for the Newhouse Newspaper Group and editor of Newhouse News Service — where her staff also won a Pulitzer. (Newshouse News is owned by Advance Publications, which is also the parent company of Condé Nast Digital, my employer).

"I don't think I've ever met anyone with as much passion for news and as much creativity and as much of a feeling for what it takes to be a great editor," Steve Newhouse said in an interview with Minneapolis Public Radio.

We never met, but I knew of Deborah Howell professionally; when she wrote an amusingly scathing piece about a WaPo opinion column which argued that women may actually be weaker and stupider than men because some of them had fainted at Obama campaign rallies, I wrote about it in a column for the Committee of Concerned Journalists.

Howell made it look easy:

Of course, it's important for provocative opinion to be in the paper, especially in Outlook, which is all commentary. And this should have nothing to do with politics. (Writer Charlotte) Allen is a conservative, and Outlook should pay attention to conservative opinion.

But my umpteen years of experience have taught me to be wary of using humor, satire or irony about gender, race or religion. Humor can easily go awry or be misunderstood; it deserves extra care in editing and labeling. The Allen piece was offensive because it was a broadside against all women, despite her weasel words here and there. And the piece had the fatal flaw of not being funny. At all.

Howell had the rare talent to be engaging and "readable" in what is often a clinical or adversarial position. I've always thought of a newspaper ombud as a Internal Affairs police officer: Nobody on the inside ever wants to hear from you, and nobody on the outside really appreciates what you do.

Ombuds are a dying breed at newspapers, which have very little ballast left to toss overboard anyway. But as the readers' advocate in what could otherwise be an echo chamber of self-adulation the position would seem to be an important differentiating factor as traditional media tries meets greater competition from upstart media which may or may not respect the same journalistic traditions.

Howell left WaPo in 2008. She will be missed.