Category Archives: New York Times

Abolish the NCAA (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly 

More evidence of the corrupting influence of the NCAA?

From today’s NYTimes, a front-page re-investigation. Highlights:

Tallahassee, Fla. — Early on the morning of Dec. 7, 2012, a freshman at Florida State University reported that she had been raped by a stranger somewhere off campus after a night of drinking at a popular Tallahassee bar called Potbelly’s.

As she gave her account to the police, several bruises began to appear, indicating recent trauma. Tests would later find semen on her underwear.

For nearly a year, the events of that evening remained a well-kept secret until the woman’s allegations burst into the open, roiling the university and threatening a prized asset: Jameis Winston, one of the marquee names of college football.

Three weeks after Mr. Winston was publicly identified as the suspect, the storm had passed. The local prosecutor announced that he lacked the evidence to charge Mr. Winston with rape. The quarterback would go on to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Florida State to the national championship.

After a Florida State student accused quarterback Jameis Winston of rape, the police did not interview him or obtain his DNA. Phil Sears/Associated Press

In his announcement, the prosecutor, William N. Meggs, acknowledged a number of shortcomings in the police investigation. In fact, an examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university.

Again I ask: what is the educational purpose of intercollegiate sports?

 

 

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Inside the meme factory: GOP discovers “imperial presidency”

By Christopher B. Daly

In today’s NYTimes, a story purports to have discovered a trend among Republican congressmen, who are depicted as suddenly deciding to accuse President Obama of creating an “imperial presidency.”

Hmmm. . .

Whenever Republicans start using the same phrase for the same purpose, it behooves political journalists to dig a little deeper and figure out where the new phrase/slogan/soundbite is coming from. Usually, it has been hatched deep in the bowels of the conservative “meme factory” — that set of interlocking think tanks, consultants, and media that serves the conservative movement by providing it with a constant supply of talking points, slogans, and rallying cries.

Today’s story, by Ashley Parker, traced the new “meme” as far upstream as a recent report from the office of Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican majority leader in the House, but that’s as far as she got. I suspect there are more tributaries to explore, even further upstream.

An excerpt:

Representative Eric Cantor, the majority leader, recently released an addendum to a 33-page report his office had already put out on the “imperial presidency.” And both Mr. Broun and Mr. Loudermilk used similar phrases when talking about the role they believe government should play.

“Our founding fathers truly believed that government should be a government of the people, by the people and for the people — not a government over the people,” Mr. Broun told a gathering of supporters recently.The day before, Mr. Loudermilk offered a nearly identical refrain: “This is a government that is of the people, not a government over the people,” he told supporters. “That’s the mentality that a lot of Washington has.”

The day before, Mr. Loudermilk offered a nearly identical refrain: “This is a government that is of the people, not a government over the people,” he told supporters. “That’s the mentality that a lot of Washington has.”

Imagine that — Loudermilk “offered a nearly identical refrain.” What a coincidence!

 

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NY Times tiptoes closer to the F-word. Oh, my!

By Christopher B. Daly 

The New York Times has a very uncharacteristic Op-Ed column today by lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower arguing that the Times should get in step with the rest of society and start printing a word we all know that begins with “f” and ends with “uck” (and it’s not firetruck!).

O tempora, o mores!

When Adolph Ochs bought the New York Times in 1896, he had high aims. The patriarch of the family that still owns the newspaper — and still sets its editorial direction — wanted above all else to appeal to an

A young Adolph Ochs is noted in the trade press.

A young Adolph Ochs is noted in the trade press.

elite audience. His business model was predicated on the idea that he could survive in the crowded New York City market with a smaller audience than the vast audience of workers, tradesmen, and immigrants that Pulitzer and Hearst were catering to, provided that the Times’s readers were wealthier, which would make them more attractive to advertisers. So, he set out to distinguish his paper from the popular “yellow press” papers of Hearst and Pulitzer, which dripped gore and sex. They were read by chambermaids and stevedores, and Ochs wanted no part of them. He was aiming for the upper classes, and he presumed that they preferred a more-decorous approach.

So, in addition to his famous motto “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” he also spelled out his credo in a statement to his readers. He promised that the Times would not “soil the breakfast cloth” — meaning that families could bring his paper to the breakfast table (which would have a table cloth, because Times readers could afford them) and not have to worry that it would besmirch the conversation or corrupt the children. In fact, Ochs declared his intention that the Times would deliver the news “in language that is parliamentary in good society.”

Thus, it would appear that proper language is part of the paper’s DNA, and the Times has certainly been culturally conservative in the sense that it has been reluctant to depart from the late-Victorian standards of propriety and vulgarity laid down by the current publisher’s great-grandfather.

Of course, it is a fair question to ask how many families gather around the breakfast table sharing the print edition of the Times and how many families are succeeding in preventing their children from learning the f-word.

Pretty fucking few, I’d bet.

 

 

 

 

 

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Veteran correspondent: Why we failed

By Christopher B. Daly

A recent piece by the redoubtable Carlotta Gall in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine points up one reason why the Times is so valuable to its readers. Gall was a correspondent for the Times in Afghanistan for more than a decade — arriving shortly after the 9/11 attacks prompted the United States’ ferocious counter-strikes in the Muslim world. Gall (who I met once when we gave her an award at Boston University) is one tough cookie — a veteran, smart, deeply informed observer of places and things that most Americans would never get to see first-hand. We have depended on her.

Now, in a kind of valedictory, she is stepping out of her duties as a day-to-day news reporter and taking on the role of an analyst. The Times ran a chunk of her forthcoming book in the Magazine, and here are the parts that really struck me.

First, she credentialed herself:

Shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, I went to live and report for The New York Times in Afghanistan. I would spend most of the next 12 years there, following the overthrow of the Taliban, feeling the excitement of the freedom and prosperity that was promised in its wake and then watching the gradual dissolution of that hope. A new Constitution and two rounds of elections did not improve the lives of ordinary Afghans; the Taliban regrouped and found increasing numbers of supporters for their guerrilla actions; by 2006, as they mounted an ambitious offensive to retake southern Afghanistan and unleashed more than a hundred suicide bombers, it was clear that a deadly and determined opponent was growing in strength, not losing it. As I toured the bomb sites and battlegrounds of the Taliban resurgence, Afghans kept telling me the same thing: The organizers of the insurgency were in Pakistan, specifically in the western district of Quetta. Police investigators were finding that many of the bombers, too, were coming from Pakistan.

Then, a bit later, she very helpfully boils down all those years of her hard-won education in the field:

“The madrasas are a cover, a camouflage,” a Pashtun legislator from the area told me. Behind the curtain, hidden in the shadows, lurked the ISI.

The Pakistani government, under President Pervez Musharraf and his intelligence chief, Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, was maintaining and protecting the Taliban, both to control the many groups of militants now lodged in the country and to use them as a proxy force to gain leverage over and eventually dominate Afghanistan. The dynamic has played out in ways that can be hard to grasp from the outside, but the strategy that has evolved in Pakistan has been to make a show of cooperation with the American fight against terrorism while covertly abetting and even coordinating Taliban, Kashmiri and foreign Qaeda-linked militants. The linchpin in this two-pronged and at times apparently oppositional strategy is the ISI. It’s through that agency that Pakistan’s true relationship to militant extremism can be discerned — a fact that the United States was slow to appreciate, and later refused to face directly, for fear of setting off a greater confrontation with a powerful Muslim nation.

I’d say that all the pundits and politicians who sit back here at home, safe and warm, should listen to someone who has actually been there and really knows what she’s talking about. So, there you have it: During all those years of dying and spending in that part of the world, the United States was basically being played as a chump, and the moment we leave, all parties involved are going to go right back to what they were doing before we got there.

 

 

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To the Koch Bros: Maybe you’d prefer China

By Christopher B. Daly

Thanks to the NYTimes, we know a little more today about the doings of the Koch brothers — the secretive billionaires who are using the Citizens United ruling to spend unprecedented amounts of money to affect U.S. politics and policy. A major theme appears to be advancing their corporate interests by discrediting government, which attempts to regulate the fossil-fuel businesses that the Kochs profit from.

According to the Times:

Leaders of the effort say it has great appeal to the businessmen and businesswomen who finance the operation and who believe that excess regulation and taxation are harming their enterprises and threatening the future of the country. The Kochs, with billions in holdings in energy, transportation and manufacturing, have a significant interest in seeing that future government regulation is limited.

It occurs to me that there are countries where those very industries — energy, transportation and manufacturing — are encouraged and liberated from regulation. A paramount example would be China, which has achieved tremendous growth rates by unleashing those sectors.

But what China and the Kochs do not want to talk about are the social costs that de-regulation imposes on society. Here is a photo I took last year in Xian — a large city in China’s industrial heartland. Bear in mind, this was not taken on a cloudy or rainy day. It was just a normal day in China, with air so thick you could not read a cease-and-desist order through it.

A reminder: Spending money ≠ speaking.

To Messrs. Koch, I ask: can we keep our (relatively) clean skies, please?

Xian, China.  Photo by Chris Daly (March 12, 2013)

Xian, China.
Photo by Chris Daly (March 12, 2013)

 

 

 

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Surveillance state (cont): FISA courts fail to check Executive

by Christopher B. Daly 

“Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.”
― Thomas Jefferson

So it goes. As Jefferson warned us, the nature of power is to be aggressive, to try always to expand rather than to contract or even to abide. Today brings a fresh revelation about the FISA Courts and the Executive Branch. Thanks to Charlie Savage and Laura Poitras of the New York Times, we now know what some of us have long assumed — that U.S.  intelligence agencies have steadily expanded their powers to spy on Americans and have run through, around, top-secret-stampand over the few legal restraints put on them by Congress. Working with a new batch of documents leaked by Edward Snowden from the NSA, the journalists focus on steps taken in secret by the George W. Bush administration, with the compliance of the secret(ive) FISA Court, to respond to the attacks of 9/11 by expanding the powers of the surveillance agencies. From the Times:

Previously, with narrow exceptions, an intelligence agency was permitted to disseminate information gathered from court-approved wiretaps only after deleting irrelevant private details and masking the names of innocent Americans who came into contact with a terrorism suspect. The Raw Take order significantly changed that system, documents show, allowing counterterrorism analysts at the N.S.A., the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. to share unfiltered personal information.

Obviously, there is a challenge here to the Congress: since the executive and judicial branches won’t stop this, the legislative branch must do something to rein in the surveillance state.

I would feel more optimistic about the chances of that happening if it weren’t for the “Spy v. Spy” drama playing out right now between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA. Briefly, the committee thought it would be a good idea to look into the years of torture carried out by the CIA. The agency would have none of that, so it set up an operation that not only spied on the congressional committee’s staffers but engaged in a bit of cyberwarfare by hacking into the committee’s computers and deleting material. Has there ever been a more rogue operation? [Not only that: the CIA, which shows no respect for the rule of law, then had the chutzpah to refer the matter to the Justice Dept. to prosecute the Senate staffers involved. Now, that shows that someone at the agency at least has a sense of humor. Sheesh.]

imgres

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Surveillance State (cont): Snowden: Why build a big haystack?

By Christopher B. Daly 

Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who divulged the secret surveillance that the agency conducts on innocent American civilians, made a good point in his recent “public appearance.” Still stuck in Russia, Snowden imgres3spoke to the SxSW conference, via teleconference, thanks to multiple encrypted relays to disguise his actual location.

The Times chose to put its story in the Business section (which was unfortunate, I think) on the apparent grounds that Snowden’s big pitch was aimed at U.S. tech and social-media companies, telling them that they need to step up their privacy. They already knew that, so I am not sure what the news value was there.

Of greater interest was the theme developed by the Washington Post’s Ellen Nakashima. She emphasized Snowden’s view that the NSA is so swamped with big data from its indiscriminate surveillance that it is not doing a very good job of tracking individual bad guys (which is, after all, what we want them to do).

‘‘We’ve actually had a tremendous intelligence failure because . . . we’re monitoring everybody’s communications instead of suspects’ communications’’ — a situation, he asserts, that has ‘‘caused us to miss’’ intelligence.

Come to think of it, for all the money that we spend on the intelligence community as a whole, and for all the compromises we make with the Constitution and our liberties, how great is the return? Where are the answers to these questions:

–Did anyone know that Putin would seize Crimea? Did anyone tell President Obama?

–Did anyone predict the Boston Marathon bombing?

–Did anyone predict the uprising that toppled Mubarak in Egypt?

–Can anyone tell us how to get rid of Assad in Syria?

–Did anyone know what was coming in Benghazi?

–What about 9/11? What about the fall of the Berlin Wall?

Basically, we need to ask: why do all the big, important things seem to come as such a surprise (to our presidents as well as to the average informed citizen)?

Whenever you don’t find something, doesn’t that tell you that you’re looking in the wrong places?

 

 

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NYTimes: Truth in labeling?

By Christopher B. Daly

When I was reading the NYTimes front page this morning, I started reading the paper’s Pg. 1 story about Pete Seeger. As I read, I had a growing sense that something was bugging me. The piece carried the byline of Jon Pareles, the paper’s longtime music critic, which I thought was appropriate. But the piece kept bugging me, until I realized what the problem was: I was not reading the paper’s obituary (also written by Pareles). Instead, I was reading something more like a critical appraisal of Pete’s musical career. Here’s part of it:

That put him at the center of the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, in all its idealism, earnestness and contradictions. Collectors found songs that had archetypal resonance, sung in unpretty voices and played with regional quirks, and transcribed them to be learned from sheet music. The folk revival prized authenticity — the work song recorded in prison, the fiddle tune recorded on a back porch — and then diluted it as the making of amateur collegiate strum-alongs.

That’s fine, of course, (although a bit tart for a story about his death) but it should have been labeled as such. There should have been some kind of banner or emblem that says AN APPRECIATION or CRITICISM or something like that which would signal that this is not a factual news story. (Online, the Pg. 1 piece carries the slug MUSIC: AN APPRAISAL, which is just what it needed.)

Inside the paper was Pete’s obit, which had a classical opening:

Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 94.

His death, at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, was confirmed by his grandson Kitama Cahill Jackson.

Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10, from college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.

Recently, I had a similar experience with the Times’ coverage. After Obama gave his “big speech” about the NSA scandal back on Jan 17, the Times ran a page 1 story the next day. Actually, the paper ran two stories: one a straightforward factual account of the president’s speech by Mark Landler and Charlie Savage headlined “Obama Outlines Calibrated Curbs on Phone Spying.” Then, there was another story, also on Pg. 1, written by David Sander and Claire Cain Miller headlined “In Keeping Grip on Data Pipeline, Obama Does Little to Reassure Industry.” My problem was that the second story was clearly more analytical, and the authors drew several important conclusions on their own authority — not by quoting experts but by being experts.

Again, that’s fine. But it should be labeled ANALYSIS.

And here’s the kicker. I was staying in a hotel that weekend, and on Sunday I could only get hold of the International New York Times. There were the Saturday stories, recycled a day late, and when I looked at the Sanger and Miller piece, it carried a label that said ANALYSIS.

 

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Abolish the NCAA, junior high edition

By Christopher B. Daly

Now it appears that the NCAA is not content to corrupt American colleges and universities. The imagesgargantuan semi-professional sports monopoly is now reaching not only into high schools but as far down the age ladder as junior high.

Today’s NYTimes has a page 1 enterprise story about the growing tentacles of NCAA coaches engaging in arms race to lock in young athletes at lower and lower ages. A key passage:

The heated race to recruit ever younger players has drastically accelerated over the last five years, according to the coaches involved. It is generally traced back to the professionalization of college and youth sports, a shift that has transformed soccer and other recreational sports from after-school activities into regimens requiring strength coaches and managers.

The practice has attracted little public notice, except when it has occasionally happened in football and in basketball. But a review of recruiting data and interviews with coaches indicate that it is actually occurring much more frequently in sports that never make a dime for their colleges.

Early scouting has also become more prevalent in women’s sports than men’s, in part because girls mature sooner than boys. But coaches say it is also an unintended consequence of Title IX, the federal law that requires equal spending on men’s and women’s sports. Colleges have sharply increased the number of women’s sports scholarships they offer, leading to a growing number of coaches chasing talent pools that have not expanded as quickly. In soccer, for instance, there are 322 women’s soccer teams in the highest division, up from 82 in 1990. There are now 204 men’s soccer teams.

I’m not sure this was what anyone had in mind when Title IX was passed in 1972 to put women’s and girls’ sports on an equal footing with male sports. Why can’t we just let kids run around and get some exercise? Sheesh. 

 

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A new New York Times online

By Christopher B. Daly

Today brings a long-awaited redesign of the New York Times online in all its various incarnations — desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile.

An overall first impression: it’s clean, smart, fast, and user-friendly. A clear winner. 

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 11.11.00 AM

To learn more, here’s an article by former Times media reporter Brian Stelter.

Some concerns:

–In the mobile version I am seeing on my iPhone, one screenful displays only 1.5 stories. It feels a bit like following a flashlight beam. I get no sense of the overall news picture.

–I am, of course, concerned about the simultaneous introduction of “native advertising” — which I consider an insidious erosion of the separation of  “church and state” within news organizations. I don’t care that everybody’s doing it. (On the other hand, I was just roaming around the site on my desktop computer, and I saw zero ads of any kind: is that courtesy of my ad-blocker?)

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

For comparison, here’s the way the Times looked when it made its debut in 1851 (price, 1 cent):

The_New-York_Daily_Times_first_issue

 

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