Friday, February 26, 2010

Paterson reportedly to not seek election

Several news outlets, including The Times-Union's Capitol Confidential blog, are reporting that Gov. Paterson will end his campaign for governor.

The decision comes in the wake of a devastating piece by The New York Times on the case of a top Paterson aide who was accused of 'violently assaulting' a woman. She claimed that a member of the governor's security detail pressured her to drop the claim. The State Police superintendent admitted a trooper visited the woman but claims there was no pressuring involved; the Times notes that the State Police had n jurisdiction in the matter.

Then, the Times reports, just before she was due to return to court to seek a final protective order, the woman got a phone call from the governor, according to her lawyer. She failed to appear for her next hearing on Feb. 8, and as a result her case was dismissed.

The deputy commissioner for public safety then resigned after claiming she'd been lied to by the affair by the State Police superintendent.

I've long been an admirer of the governor but his saga is a tragic case. He is quite clearly the only person in Albany with the fortitude to address the state's fiscal crisis and generally take on powerful vested interests. And he's taken courageous stands on important issues like equal rights for gays and ethics reform. But few seemingly good men have shot themselves in the foot more often than Paterson.

Further, any moral high ground on ending the culture of corruption in Albany has completely evaporated because of this affair. The politicization of law enforcement, which also undermined his predecessor's credibility, has to be one of the most unacceptable things in a state governed by the rule of law.

Additionally, in the wake of the different but related scandals involving Sens. Hiram Monserrate and Kevin Parker, the last thing Albany needs is more tolerance of disgusting domestic abusers and bullies.

Maybe, this organization should start giving seminars at the Capitol.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

An interview with the "Most Dangerous Man in America"

The Bob Edwards Show has a great interview with former Marine Daniel Ellsberg, who's more well-known for leaking the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1970. The Papers revealed the secret history of US involvement in Vietnam and the pathological government lying to cover up that history. Ellsberg stated his certainty that at some point, the Afghanistan Papers would reveal the similarly sordid history of the more intractable of our two current imperial morasses. What's interesting, the former Marine noted, is that most of the crimes committed by the Nixon administration against him (mostly related to warrantless domestic spying) would now be legal under the so-called Patriot Act.

Ellsberg was appearing in conjunction with the recently released documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why I won't take The Pledge

The electricity monopoly National Grid has launched a new PR campaign designed to get people to pledge to reduce energy consumption by 3 percent.

They tout the initiative on their main website with the pithy phrase, "The less energy you use, the less you pay for."

The problem is that due to National Greed's billing practices*, the phrase is patently untrue. The monopoly has consistently offset any reduction in revenues received from actual power usage by jacking up the nebulous "delivery charge" portion of their bill... which can be as much as three and a half times the cost of actual power usage.

Reduce energy usage because it's the right thing to do for the planet. But don't act under any delusion that you will see any difference on your National Greed bill.

(*-Note: I've documented these practices several times including most expansively here but also here and here)

For once, the far right is silent on terrorism

For some reason, this link is not able to be posted on Facebook because supposedly it's been flagged as "offensive" by some users, dish-it-out-but-can't-take-it crybabies do doubt, but NCPR's Brian Mann has good piece calling out deafening conservative and Republican silence on terrorism.

Friday, February 19, 2010

This blog's standards

I've never tried to explain what standards I try to use on this blog but my piece yesterday provided a good prompt.

Although this blog (and my Africa blog Black Star Journal) consists primarily of commentary, I do have training as a journalist so I try as much as possible to follow the basic standards of mainstream journalism. At some point in the future, I'd like to try to syndicate my work, although obviously my pieces would have to become shorter.

As critical as I sometimes am, I am very conscious of trying to avoid libel, slander and defamation, which explains my sometimes prodigious use of words like 'allegedly' and 'apparently'.

I believe in disclosure and the full-as-possible airing of issues. For example, I've tried to get Will Doolittle's side of the story regarding my critiques of his recent series on the Adirondack Park Agency. I've pro-actively contacted him twice to try to get some portion of his defense of his pieces published here (the last time, it said he was out of the office but hopefully he'll respond affirmatively when he gets back). It's not something I an obligated to do but I'm trying to do so for the sake of fairness. I don't want anyone to think I'm trying to do a hit job on him or trying to suppress his explanation. This blog may be almost entirely commentary, not straight journalism, but I still want his side published here so readers can have the full picture and make up their own minds.

It's because of this belief in providing as much access to as much information as possible that I publish links as much as possible. If I'm criticizing a piece, for example, I always link to that piece if it's available. I explain why I think it's wrong but post the link so that people can make their own decisions based on full information, not simply my subjective paraphrasing of it. I do this for every piece where a link is available, whether I'm criticizing the piece, praising it or simply referring to it. I believe sourcing is important both for the integrity of my piece and to give readers the ability to make up their own mind.

As much as possible, I also try to quote from a piece or person, rather than paraphrasing.

I strongly encourage dialogue. My essays are ideally intended to be conversation starters, not the be all and end all. I like the back and forth of discussion. It doesn't have to be sycophantic, but please, let it be intelligent. This is why, despite my misgivings about completely unsigned remarks, I've removed all barriers to commenting (except one).

The only exception is that I approve comments before their publication. My current standard is that I will publish all comments except are those that I consider potentially libelous or defamatory toward other people or ones that are spam. I've been criticized for the latter but I refuse to let my blog be the vehicle for potentially illegal (and almost always anonymous) smear campaigns. There is no question of me reversing this policy.

As an editorial policy, I will not refer to as 'president' any leader whose rule I consider to be illegitimate. I will refer to them as a leader, a head of state, a ruler, a dictator or a strong man, but not president.

If any readers have additional questions about the standards I try to use on this, they are welcome to leave a comment here or to email me (mofycbsj@yahoo.com) and I will respond in kind.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

89% of journalists use blogs in their research: report

The seemingly typical view of the independent blogosphere by mainstream media journalists is one of a fantasyland where leeches in their bathrobes take potshots from the peanut gallery at those who do the hard work of journalism.

On one hand, I think there's an element of truth to this stereotype. I think this is what the blogosphere used to be almost exclusively, and still is to some extent. But this bugs me because it doesn't recognize how the blogosphere has changed in the last few years, how much more nuanced it's become.

For example, Adirondack Almanack* used to be just the political and history writings of a single person; a lot like mine but with an Adirondacks' focus. Now, the journal offers pieces on a stunning variety of topics by 15 different individuals... from ski videos to activity ideas to photography to nature reporting and, yes, history and politics. The Almanack always interested me as a political and history junkie, but its increasing breadth makes it a lot better. It's now a news and information source, not just a blog.

(*-disclosure: I recently became a regular contributor to the Almanack)

There's a lot of good stuff out there in the blogosphere. A fair bit of good commentary. Not a ton of, but some decent original journalism. And yes, there's still a lot of crap.

The blogosphere represents the democratization of the media. Because democracy is a lot messier than plutocracy, this is not a complete panacea. There are certainly issues, especially pertaining to anonymity, ethics and standards. There are complications in the evolution of any medium; the idea of objective journalism is relatively recent in the overall history of newspapers.

It's not a panacea but it is an improvement. This democratization also means that points of view, especially non-elite ones, previously excluded or given short shrift in the mainstream media now have voice.

The overgeneralization is tantamount treating The Washington Post, The New York Post and The Saratogian the same just because they are all fall within the realm of the daily newspaper. At the end of the day, the credibility of blogs should be determined in an identical manner to the credibility of newspapers and other media outlet: on a case-by-case analysis of a blog's entire body of work. Lazy generalizations is a lot easier, but no one said being serious wasn't hard work.

Because of this generalized scorn, I was intrigued to read the findings of researchers at George Washington University.

Among the journalists surveyed, 89% said they turn to blogs for story research, 65% to social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, and 52% to microblogging services such as Twitter. The survey also found that 61% use Wikipedia, the popular online encyclopedia.

The figure of 89% of journalists turning to blogs for story research turns on its head the stereotype that the relationship the blogosphere and mainstream media journalism is one-sided, with the former leeching off the later.

Note: Tomorrow, I will have a piece explaining the standards I try to use in this blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We speak English hear: if you don't like it, to bad!

I was interested to read a story in the Post-Star whereby a board member in Jackson proposed making English the Washington County town's official language.

At first, I was skeptical of the proposal. Phrases like "shameless grandstanding," "culture warrior in search of a crusade," "cheap populism" and "solution in search of a problem" immediately sprung to mind. I doubted that the tiny town had much demand for public documents to be translated into Swahili or Mongolian. In fact, the town board member did not even mention any problem at the municipal level, only his dissatisfaction that English-only has not been made the official federal policy.

My skepticism was further entrenched after reading the following rant on a poststar.com forum. I'll publish it below verbatim in its entirety. See how many grammar and spelling errors you can spot.

This is AMERICA and we do speak English. More power to those that choose to speak a second language just in case they travel abroad and are forced to speak another language other then English. If I go to a local store and they don’t speak English…I’m out of there. If you want to live here…you have to learn the English language…period.

There are those that “butcher” the English language…and I’m sure they were born and raised here…and I’m sure they understand better then they speak. Are there other more pressing problems…yes but if we don’t pay attention to these “little things”, before long they become BIG THINGS and then it’s too late. God Bless America …if you can’t say it…you certainly don’t understand what it stands for…learn English and you will appreciate more the “host country” your living in.


My personal opinion is that if you are going to demand others be required to speak and write English, you should take the time to learn how to do so properly yourself.

In fact, at last check, there were four comments on that forum from four different people demanding English-only... ALL of which had grammar/spelling errors.

I also denounced former GOP presidential candidate Tom Tancredo for telling the Tea Party convention that he supported the return of Jim Crow-era literacy tests.

But upon further reflection, maybe these things have some merit.

Maybe the Jackson town board member's proposal is just PR. When I read the article, my instant reaction is that if this is one of the most prominent issues to require the time and resources of town government, then Jackson must be a pretty awesome place to live.

It also occurred to me that English-only laws would prevent people like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin from ever becoming president.

Finally, the English literacy test proposal is an idea worth considering. It wouldn't have much impact on immigrants, most of whom place a high value on education. But it would no doubt purge at least 75 percent of bigots from the voter rolls.

Que la police linguistique me pourchasse!

Friday, February 12, 2010

20 years after a hero's liberation

This essay is part of an occasional feature on this blog that presents compelling stories from elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, that are little reported in the American media. It's part of my campaign to get people to realize there is a lot going on in the world outside the US, IsraelStine and the Trumped Up Enemy of the Month. A list of all pieces in this series can be found found here..


"Anyone can handle adversity. If you really want to test a man's character, give him power." -Abraham Lincoln

I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge yesterday as being the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's liberation from prison. Mandela remains arguably (though not arguably in my opinion) the greatest living political figure and certainly one the greatest of the 20th century. Not simply for his role in liberating South Africa from apartheid but for his sage guidance of the country during the early years of the country's real democracy. I maintain that the greatest thing he ever did for South Africa, even greater than leading the apartheid struggle, was to serve only a single term as the country's president. In doing so, he prevented the country from trading one oppressor for another. The decision prevented the development of a cult of personality and sent a loud and clear message that the well-being of the state must never be dependent on the beneficence of a single individual. He thus fulfilled his promise upon being released from prison that he stood "not as a prophet but as [the people's] humble servant." This mentality, the mark of true statesmanship, is likely the biggest single reason South Africa has so far avoided going down the road of other countries with similar liberation struggles like Zimbabwe and Angola.



Note: The South African Broadcasting Corporation has coverage here, here The Johannesburg Daily Mail and Guardian has reports here and here. The BBC has a report here as well as memories here and here as well as pictures.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Politics and hypocrisy

In NCPR's blog, Brian Mann has a great commentary on Jenny Sanford and the hypocrisy of the religious right. He calls them out for intertwining religion, family life, politics and policy... until a scandal erupts and then they demand privacy, which is the complete separation of the personal and the public.

Going on a media tour is a strange way to guard your "privacy."

People did not turn on Bill Clinton for his sex scandal but did turn on Eliot Spitzer for his. The difference? Spitzer was prosecuting prostitution rings as attorney general at the same time he was frequenting them.

People like serial cheater Mark Sanford, bathroom blowjob king Larry Craig and convicted criminal domestic abuser Hiram Monstserrate have the gall to think they have the right to say that gays don't deserve to get married.

What most riles Americans is not the imperfect personal lives of politicians but their hypocrisy.

Periodic Twitter update

Note: This is a series highlighting selected stories from the Twitter feeds for my blogs Musings of a (Fairly) Young Contrarian and Black Star Journal. The Twitter feed contains not only links to original pieces from my blogs but also links ("re-tweets") to diverse stories from other media outlets. Those interested are encouraged to subscribe the Twitter feed to get all stories by going to Twitter.com/mofycbsj and clicking 'follow'.

-Pretty amazing Rachel Maddow segment on Republicans who take credit for stimulus projects (Washington Monthly via Slate.com)

- Family Research Council Calls for Criminalization of Gay Sex (Alternet)

-NYS Gov. David Paterson vetoes Legislature’s ethics bill, goo-goos unhappy (Capitol Confidential)

-The U.S. Hunger Epidemic is a Fact, And We Must Act Now (Alternet)

- U.S. Missionaries See Judge In Haiti Child Case (New York Times via Black Looks)

- National Grid wants 20 percent increase in electric rates (Syracuse Post-Standard)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The smear campaign against Paterson

Bob over at Planet Albany offers his thoughts on the character assassination campaign (my words, not his) against Gov. Paterson, a campaign extraordinary even by the venal standards of New York.

The Legislative Gazette reports via its Twitter feed that Gerald McEntee, head of the state's powerful AFSCME public workers union, recently said of Paterson, "He's our biggest foe in the state of New York ... He's going down."

Public sector unions don't like Paterson because he's targeting them during this budget crisis, which is inevitable since spending on things like health care and education make up the majority of the state's spending. You can't address a serious budget crisis if most of the budget is off the table. It makes you wonder who (possibly singular, most likely plural) might be behind the character assassination campaign against the one of the rare politicians in Albany with both a clue and a spine.

We wouldn't have to wonder if someone had the guts to attach their name to the accusations.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Print this!

In a previous entry, an anonymous commenter noted that The Post-Star is now limiting certain parts of its content to print only. According to managing editor Ken Tingley's blog, the following sections will no longer be available online: comics, puzzles, TV grids, the horoscope, Dear Abby or letters to the editor.

The wisdom of such a decision is debatable. All the new print-only stuff (save letters) is syndicated content that the paper itself has to buy, so on one hand, it makes sense that readers should have to pay the paper for it. But on the other hand, all the stuff is now available for free at other websites so is it really going to be much of an incentive for web-only readers (who are, by definition, at least somewhat web savvy) to buy the print edition?

This experiment is no doubt the first of many. Newspapers are in desperate straits and are going to try anything to increase revenue... anything short of improving quality and local focus.

The front page print edition headline was an AP story about the slimy character assassination of Gov. Paterson based on a Page Six (celebrity gossip column) piece in the tabloid New York Post. The story was about unspecific rumors made by anonymous people so serious that the governor was supposed to resign over them. The reliable sources [sic] indicated that that the (perhaps mythical?) New York Times expose was supposed to run last Sunday, then two days ago, then yesterday... nothing's appeared yet. Why the AP and other supposedly respected news outlets have been complicit in anonymous, unspecific character assassination propagated by NYC's version of The National Enquirer and presumably Paterson's political enemies is beyond me. But as disgraceful as the AP and others are in hyping this as yet non-story, The Post-Star did choose to run it as its lead, ahead of other decent local stories... which will no doubt be behind a firewall soon enough anyway.

Understandable or not, the paper's action feels like little more than re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic, closing the barn door after the horses have already left or whatever cliché you wish to invoke.

Letters to the editor are another ball of wax. The paper has already done this selectively in the past, with their refusal to publish online a stinging ethical criticism of Will Doolittle's anti-APA series (at a time when they published online all other letters to the editor). But now, they're going whole hog in limiting the spread of public opinion.

As anonymous put it, you'll have to pay to read corrections to factual errors, or rebuttals to the oftentimes summary editorial judgments.

So you have to pay half a dollar to read the voice of the people but the snarky Don Cheap Shot remains free?!

Then again, I suppose that's an accurate reflection of the relative value of the two.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Morons of the week

HONORABLE MENTION: Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, leader of the Republicans' xenophobe lobby, addressed at the Tea Party convention by calling for the return of Jim Crow-era voting laws. And Teabaggers wonder why anyone could possibly see extremism in their "movement."



WINNER: Georgia Sen. Saxby Chamblis, as quoted by The New Yorker:

“the presence in the armed forces of persons who demonstrate a propensity or intent to engage in homosexual acts” would be likely to create an atmosphere susceptible to “alcohol use, adultery, fraternization, and body art.”

Except in a few states, gays can't get married so they can't commit adultery.

And if you banned alcohol and tattoos from the military, you wouldn't have much of a military left.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Reflections on the state of journalism

While I generally discourage completely anonymous comments (I'd prefer people sign, if not their full name, at least a first name or nickname), I do allow them.

In one of several recent pieces I wrote exposing holes into the controversial anti-APA story written by The Post-Star's anti-APA reporter Will Doolittle, an anonymous commenter left the following observations:

The way I see it, in the most recent era of newspaper journalism, objectivity in reporting was considered the ideal and the goal of many organizations. In a nutshell: reporters reported news, and opinions were largely contained on the editorial page (columnists who often reported or broke news and laced their reports with their own points of view often appear outside the confines of the editorial page, but have always been identified as columnists).

This basic division between the newspaper's missions was as strong a firewall as the division between advertising (the other mission of the newspaper is to make money) and news/editorial content. The best example of the news/opinion firewall was the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal--very conservative editorial page, but solid, straight-forward news gathering. (Naturally this ideal works for papers large enough to have separate Opinions page staff. Mom & pop weeklies simply cannot afford to build firewalls.) Whether or not the ideal of objectivity was ever attained, or even attainable is a side issue.

That era seems to have come to an end with the advent of new media—which are largely POV sources—and Fox News which is run by former political operator Roger Ailes. The emerging landscape looks a whole lot more like early nineteenth century partisan journalism than it does our more recent past.

For newspapers, the recent decline in their fortunes has led to greater experiment in format & content which often entails lowering the advertising or editorial firewalls.

What happened at the Post-Star: editorial page elements dovetailing so conveniently with news elements (as reported by a columnist) to create a thematic "synergy," had the general aroma of just such a barrier-busting stunt.

For an older generation looking for an honest broker in news reporting, this sort of experimentation is dispiriting.


And I would add: for a younger generation with far more exposure to punditry than quality journalism, this sort of experimentation is now accepted as the norm because they've known been given enough of the latter to know the difference.

I've noted with dismay for some time the tendency of The Post-Star and other papers to have an eerie 'synergy' between reporting and editorializing. A story on the bust of an underage drinking party on the front page of the paper is inevitably followed in that same edition by an editorial denouncing adult complicity with underage drinkers. That underage drinking news stories (one of the paper's overt editorial crusades) are inevitably given more prominent placement than comparable non-violent police blotter stories and that the names of underage drinkers are published even though the names of all other minors charged with misdemeanors or non-criminal offenses are not published are both examples of the twinning of the news and the editorial.

When I was a college journalist, we were taught that if the paper published a story on a topic, it should not editorialize on that topic in the same issue. The premise was to let the story (whose purpose is to be objective) speak for itself rather than having an editorial (whose purpose is to have a point of view) shove the paper's opinion down readers' throats before they've had a chance to properly digest it. Having editorials take positions in the same issue as purportedly objective investigative 'exposés' and then claiming that news and editorials are separate is way too convenient.

Post-Star managing editor Ken Tingley took a shot at readers for their poor spelling and grammar in letters to the editor and online comments.

The Atlantic's Michael Kinsley has his own thoughts on what ails newspaper journalism: verbosity and overhype. While his diagnosis seems more geared toward the country's most influential dailies, local papers being more known for excessive brevity, it's a worthy read. One complaint of mine he echoes:

There’s an old joke about the provincial newspaper that reports a nuclear attack on the nation’s largest city under the headline "Local Man Dies in NY Nuclear Holocaust." Something similar happens at the national level, where everything is filtered through politics. ("In what was widely seen as a setback for Democrats just a year before the midterm elections, nuclear bombs yesterday obliterated seven states, five of which voted for President Obama in the last election...")


Update: The continuing speculation over the fate of Gov. Paterson is yet another example of 'mainstream' outlets adopting the standards of trash journalism. Wild rumors circulated Albany that The New York Times was going to reveal some damning scandal about the governor who was supposedly going to then resign. No one could say for sure what the story would be about, only that it was supposedly going to be worse than previous admissions about his personal life made by the governor.

According to reliable sources [sic], the 'bombshell' was supposed to run in the
NYT last Monday, then yesterday, then today. It has yet to be published.

Apparently, the Associated Press' Albany bureau wrote a story on this rumor based on the celebrity gossip-based Page Six of
The New York Post. It used to be that in serious journalistic outlets, until there was a story, there was no story. Is there really much hope for the future of serious journalism when the AP is relying on the Post's Page Six?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Money for nothing

While a wage freeze prevents most ordinary workers within the Tribune Company from getting even any raise whatsoever, a judge authorized that executives of the bankrupt company receive some $45.6 million in bonuses. Apparently, Tribune is following the Wall St. model of completely eliminating any relationship between a bonus and good performance. Corporate executives of a company IN BANKRUPTCY get "historic[ally] high" bonuses. Ordinary workers who perform well get no raise whatsoever.

The $45 million in bonuses for a tiny cadre of executives is actually lower than the company's original spending spree of $70 million.

This is the same media company whose flagship newspaper editorialized against huge bonuses paid to AIG executives.

The plan was objected to by some groups including labor unions but their pleas were ignored by the bankruptcy judge.

You'd think a media company based on selling image and branding would be a little less tone deaf on potential public relations disasters.


Update: Not surprisingly, the story was apparently not reported by Tribune's two most prominent newspapers, The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times. Maybe this is their notion of 'crisis management.'

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Fluff(ball) stories

Some free advice to the brain trust at The Post-Star. If you worry about the decline in people actually paying for your product, don't make them feel like they wasted their money!

I'd suggest that if you insist on running stories about felines of death in Rhode Island and dogs jumping off a bridge in Scotland, that you not put this on the FRONT PAGE of the paper!

It's debatable whether wire stories like this should be in the paper at all but if they do, the FRONT PAGE is most certainly not the place for them. If papers are going to distinguish themselves in a media environment that largely disadvantages them, then they need to maximize the one potential advantage they have, if they choose to use it: good, in-depth journalism. I wonder how the daily's in-house reporters feel about having their hard work bumped in favor of an out-of-state, yawn-inducing story about a "furry angel of death."