Why is it so hard to talk about Charleston?

By Christopher B. Daly

What happened in Charleston this week meets the literal definition of terrorism.

Here’s a dictionary definition (from Dictionary.com):



the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.

Here’s the FBI’s definition:

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

So, why do the media find it so difficult to call it an act of domestic terrorism?

The NYTimes was willing to discuss the issue but not to use the term in its main coverage.

The most extreme case (as so often happens) involved Fox News. The Thursday morning episode of the show “Fox and Friends” hit a new low — in which the hosts and guests strained to frame the violent assault by a white man seeking to take his country back as an assault on religion and an attack on Christians. Wha?

Here’s a brilliant analysis by Larry Wilmore, who is getting better by the week. (courtesy of Comedy Central and TPM).gctqv5mtkz5pr8y6j2bi

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This Week in Fossil Fuels (6/19/15)

By Christopher B. Daly 

We take you now to the Vatican . . .

. . . where a pope who took the name of the saint who cared the most about birds and animals and all living creatures decided to take a stand on the moral issues raised by pollution, rampant consumerism, and brutal inequality. He is telling believers to forget about that line in the Bible about God giving man “dominion” over the planet. Instead, he’s telling believers to read the rest of the Bible and catch the main drift, which emphasizes humility, stewardship, and love.

Here’s a summary, courtesy of the Holy See Press Office, and here’s the full text.

Here’s the “lead” (in which Francis invokes his sandal-wearing, vegetarian, tree-hugging namesake):

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]

–Uh-oh. What happens when the institution of the papacy flip-flops? Could be awkward for American Republicans. (Especially those American Republicans who expediently cite papal teachings on issues like abortion and birth control when it suits them.)

–Especially when the American electorate is moving the other way.

ELSEWHERE in fossil fuels . . .

–Batteries have long been the weak link in the transition to electric power. Could this guy have an answer?

–On the divestment front: add the pro-business MIT to the list of U.S. universities bailing out of investments in coal (and tar sands). Go, you Beavers!

–And here’s a series on coal-fired plants. Phew.

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Monday Media Roundup

By Christopher B. Daly

What has become of the New York Times‘ media beat? A year ago, the Times had a strong claim to be the single most important source of original reporting about journalism and other media issues. Today, in the Monday Business section of the print edition, not a single story. The obvious reason is the death six months ago of David Carr, the paper’s pre-eminent media reporter/columnist. But that was a long ago in media terms, and the paper shows no sign of recovering its mojo. I have heard that there is a search underway with a small number of finalists. There has been some speculation in other venues, but little indication from the Times that the paper has a commitment to regaining the leadership in covering its own industry. It will take more than a single high-profile hire, too. To make it work, the paper needs a full-fledged “desk” with an editor, a team of reporters (to compensate for the loss of Brian Stelter in late 2013), and a high-impact columnist.

–One thing you never want to hear on the other end of your telephone line: “Hi, this is Mark Fainaru-Wada, and I have a couple of questions for you . . .” Here is his investigation into Hope Solo, the 33-year-old goalkeeper of the U.S. women’s World Cup soccer team. It sounds like she was one hot mess that night. (Among other things, ESPN‘s Fainaru-Wada was one of the reporters at the SF Chronicle who broke the BALCO steroids scandal.)

–Speaking of ESPN, does anyone doubt that there’s more to come on the Friday afternoon sacking of Jason Whitlock as founding editor of The Undefeated? I’d like to hear it straight from Whitlock himself. Hmmm. . .

Gawker, a pioneer in digital journalism, is making news itself. First, there was the startling vote by the hamsters who churn out all that clickbait to form a labor union. As a former union member (The Wire Service Guild) and a sometime labor historian (Like A Family) myself, I say welcome to the movement that brought us all the weekend.

Then, the Times weighed in last Friday (in a piece under the standing head MEDIA) about Gawker founder and editor in chief Nick Denton. After a fairly labored lead about Denton smoking a joint on a fire escape with his husband, the Times piece (by Jonathan Mahler — a possible candidate for for taking over the Media Equation column?) observes the phenomenal growth of Gawker:

Mr. Denton started Gawker Media 12 years ago in his living room. It was initially just two blogs, the snarky — though the term was not yet in popular usage — media gossip site Gawker, and a technology blog,Gizmodo. The company had two freelance bloggers who were paid $12 per post.

Today, Gawker Media encompasses seven sites with 260 full-time employees. There’s the sports blog Deadspin — noteworthy journalistic coups include an investigative article revealing that the football star Manti Te’o had an imaginary girlfriend and the publication of photos said to show Brett Favre’s penis — and the feminist site Jezebel. For technology, there’s Gizmodo. For video gamers, there’s Kotaku. Mr. Denton’s personal favorite is Lifehacker, Gawker’s take on self-help.

By most measures, the company is doing fine. Gawker Media says it generated about $45 million in advertising revenue last year, and was profitable, earning about $7 million.

What could go wrong? Well, for one thing: a $100 million invasion-of-privacy lawsuit pending against Gawker by former wrestler Hulk Hogan. No surprise: Hogan was not happy when Gawker posted a sex tape of Hogan.

The whole piece is worth reading, for its exploration of whether Gawker is capable of maturing as a news source and how it plans to relate to social media.

–A hat tip to the Times‘ public editor, Margaret Sullivan for calling bullshit on the paper over its recent mania over a silly book by Wednesday Martin about the folkways of the wealthy residents of the UES.

It all began, reasonably enough, with a Sunday Review cover story last month by Ms. Martin, in which she told of her experience moving to Manhattan’s Upper East Side and the strange beings she found there — women who were (gasp) blonde, wealthy and fit.

But then, The Times’s overkill machine geared up and began to churn out one article after another: a review of the book, another review of the book, a column about the book, and an inside look at the column about the book, a blog post about the book, and a review of a similar television series with a prominent mention of the book. Then, to finish up (well, one can always hope), there was a news article about the book’s departures from reality and its publisher’s plans to add a disclaimer for future editions.

‘Nuf said.

–The ever-helpful “On the Media” NPR program has a really helpful guide to filming the police in public places. Don’t miss: the ACLU app that makes sure your video of the cops survives even if they confiscate your phone.

–This just in: from today’s Washington Post, here is media reporter Paul Farhi’s latest offering — a tour d’horizon of the digital journalism world. Not a very pretty picture.


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Filed under David Carr, Gawker, Journalism, media, New York Times

This Week in Fossil Fuels

by Christopher B. Daly 

In response to Norway’s decision to divest of coal-company stocks, some people detected an odor of hypocrisy, given off by Norway’s continued dependence on another fossil fuel: North Sea oil.

To which I say, Enh. Any step in the right direction is welcome.


–The oil industry is going through one of its chronic contractions.

HOUSTON – Pelted by the oil-market crash, the energy industry’s job cuts reached 150,000 by the end of May, says energy recruiting firm Swift Worldwide Resources, and that figure had grown by a fifth since March.

–The fracking industry acknowledges its image problems by launching a cute PR campaign. (How dumb do they thinkburgundy-436x436 we are? We’ll see .. . .) I really want answers from a fake newscaster.

–If you are keeping track, here is a chart showing the value of a share of stock in Peabody Energy, one of the largest coal companies in the U.S. (Fun fact: the NYSE ticker symbol is BTU — i.e., British Thermal Units). To summarize, a share that was worth $16 a year ago is now worth $3.


That in itself is a reason to divest.

IN FACT, it is a really great reason to have divested a year ago! (What say you, Drew Faust?)

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Monday journalism roundup

By Christopher B. Daly

It’s been a busy week for thinking about the news business.

Here’s Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia Journalism School, sharing his reactions to one day’s New York Times with the paper’s “Insider” feature.

–NPR recently did a devastating investigation of the Red Cross’ spending in Haiti. Here is the story behind the story.

Here is Part II of Michael Massing’s survey of the digital news landscape for the NYRB. (Spoiler alert: he’s more impressed by the legacy media than  by most digital natives.)

Here is this week’s offering from NPR’s “On the Media,” which is a consistently worthwhile show. Particularly good: this segment on the nation’s librarians, who have shown an impressive toughness in defense of the public’s right to read without being spied on. Go, librarians!

Here is an original episode of public radio’s “This American LIfe,” which focuses on what might be called “journalism by other means” — opera, drama, etc. Great idea.

As the saying goes: More later!

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Abolish the NCAA (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Why do I want to abolish the NCAA? Here are a couple of reasons, from the recently concluded spring semester:

1. In my large lecture class at Boston University on the history of journalism, I had a student who was also a member of B.U.’s Division 1 men’s hockey powerhouse. On the first two tests of the term, he got failing grades. I noticed and suggested that he come see me during office hours to discuss steps he could take to improve. He replied that he could not come to office hours because they conflict with his practice schedule and his coach would not tolerate an absence (even for a few minutes to talk to a professor!). Why, I thought, is the coach more important on a college campus than a professor? But I let it go and changed my schedule so I could meet with this student one morning. He described his schedule of practice and travel to out-of-town games, and it became clear that he just didn’t have time for his classes. Essentially, all the top men’s hockey programs make up a development league for the NHL.

Ultimately, he withdrew rather than suffer an “F” (which would jeopardize his eligibility to play hockey!)

2. In the same class, I had a young woman who was a member of B.U.’s swimming and diving team. Again, practice and travel time would interfere with class. But in this case, there was an added wrinkle: concussion. Turns out, this student had taken enough blows to the head in diving that she could not read, study or do a lot of other things that are pretty central to being a student. During her recuperation, she rushed back into the pool too early and suffered a second concussion. She managed to pass the course.

3. Finally, in the same class (of about 60), I had a student who was a star on the B.U. women’s golf team. (Who knew that we even had a women’s golf team?!?) Early in the term, she approached me with the official letter all the varsity athletes get from the Athletics Dept. identifying the student as a competitive athlete and begging my indulgence with their travel and competition schedules. In her case, the team over-performed and won its league championship, which led to a regional tournament and ultimately to the national tournament — which conflicted directly with the final exam in my class. With ambivalence, I granted her a later make-up date, with no penalty. (Then, while she was away at the tournament, I got a distraught message from her: the team’s van had been broken into and some asshole had stolen all their valuables and laptop, so she couldn’t even attempt to study.)

Now, here’s proof that I don’t know everything: the golfer ended up with the highest grade for term!



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This Week in Fossil Fuels (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Another week, another episode of harm to the planet and to individual human beings.

A child tries to protect himself from the air pollution in New Delhi. Credit Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

A child tries to protect himself from the air pollution in New Delhi. Credit Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

Here is a heartbreaking account of one family’s struggle with the air pollution in India (granted, some of India’s air pollution is not caused by burning fossil fuels, but we know where most of it comes from — burning coal). Of course, this story involves a family from the developed world with every advantage, so imagine how miserable life is for the typical, poor Indian.

–The world’s largest “sovereign wealth fund” (that’s an investment vehicle created by a government to make money for its public-employee pensions, for example) has decided to divest from coal. Norway is taking that step in part because of the “feel-good” politics of voting against polluters that many liberal polities would find appealing. But I suspect that it also reflects a dawning awareness among all economic players: All the world’s coal companies are based on ownership of an asset (coal) that is destined to decline in value. Which raises a question for all parties who invest in coal and oil, too: what is the economic sense in owning stock in an industry that is destined to go out of business? That question pertains to individuals, university endowments, wealth managers, everybody.

–In The New Yorker, the redoubtable Elizabeth Kolbert shines a light on the world’s biggest source of coal: the border area between Montana and Wyoming. (“. . .where the skies are not cloudy all day . .”) Guess who owns all that coal? We do!

The Powder River Basin, which stretches over twenty-six thousand square miles of southeastern Montana and northeastern Wyoming, is the largest coal-producing region in the world. Roughly forty per cent of the coal that’s burned in the United States is mined there; this comes to nearly four hundred million tons a year. And there’s plenty more still in the ground. A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated recoverable reserves in the region at more than a hundred and sixty billion tons.

The federal government owns most of the coal in the Powder River Basin, and leases the land to private companies that mine it for a profit.

So, what are WE going to do about it? Apparently, we are going to do the same thing that China is planning: keep burning coal and set clean-air goals for a half-generation or so from now (i.e., long after most current officials in both countries have retired). Thanks a lot!

–In the inaugural post in this series, I wrote that no journalist covers fossil fuel as a “beat.” Turns out, that’s not quite true. At the Houston Chronicle (no surprise, I guess), the business section has a vertical devoted to covering the oil

That's a lobster.  Credit: Getty

That’s a lobster.
Credit: Getty

and natural gas business, which they call “Fuel Fix.” It’s a team effort to cover the largest local industry in Houston. It seems to take a fairly deferential attitude toward that industry, which is hardly surprising. It’s reminiscent of the way the Wall Street Journal covers capitalism, or ESPN covers sports. (Fun fact: one of the contributors to “Fuel Fix” is a former student of mine, Josh Cain, who’s identified as a “digital producer.”) “Fuel Fix” is useful as a roundup, but it suffers from the same problem that A.J. Liebling identified when it comes to reading conservative newspapers — it’s like learning to use a rifle that you know has a deviation to the right. You have to “correct” for the misfire. For example, here’s an AP story from the site that follows up on the Santa Barbara spill.

This one was just too awful: about 100 people in Ghana, seeking refuge from a flood, got killed when a gas station exploded.

–Last (but hardly least) in this week’s roundup is this story from The Nation about how Chevron has a whole country in its grip.

A special hat-tip here to the author, James North, the nom-de-plume for a journalist who has been covering

James North, journalist

James North, journalist

the developing world for 40 years — ever since graduating from college a few years ahead of me. (We worked together on the student newspaper.)

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