Monthly Archives: October 2011

The business end

of the media business is at stake in a new auction being planned by the FCC. Here’s an update from today’s Boston Globe.

Here is a link to the FCC website (which should have been supplied by the Globe but was not).

Here is a pretty good Wikipedia backgrounder (which also should have been a link in the Globe article; Sheesh, don’t they realize they are publishing on the web?).

Here’s an incredibly complicated visual rendering of spectrum allocation.


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Filed under broadcasting, FCC, regulation


I have now seen what the Internet was made for! You have to see these political parodies offered up by Bad Lip Reading. (check out Perry, Bachman, Obama, etc.)

The Cain video is my favorite (so far). “nachos and hogwash” . . . “sing, sing, sing” . . . “baby your breath is killing me”. . . spiders, big potato moths, lice and tiger DNA, cowboys & anthrax. . .  it’s all there. Give that woodchuck a tunamelt!

This guy has the answers.

Now, what are the questions?

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Terror v. Freedom

by Chris Daly 

A trial taking place in U.S. District Court in Boston deserves more attention than it has been getting. This is a criminal trial, pitting the United States government (in the form of the U.S. Justice Dept) against one of its citizens (in the person of Tarek Mehanna, of suburban Sudbury).

In brief, the government accuses Mehanna of some sort of involvement with terrorism, more specifically jihad.

What I cannot find in any of the documents I have been able to track down or in the news accounts of the prosecutors’ statements is any evidence of any specific criminal action taken by the suspect. The only evidence has to do with allegations of speech, writing, translation, and Web-posting.

Any time the government attempts to criminalize speech rather than actions, that should concern all of us who care about the First Amendment and  the freedom to speak and publish.

Granted, there are some gray areas in law. One has to do with conspiracy. If you speak to your fellow criminals in the planning of a crime, that could be a crime. That is one reason that conspiracy is such a standby of prosecutors. Another gray area involving speech and crime involves the legal doctrine of incitement, which can be extended to such areas as hate speech and “fighting words.” If you use words to directly encourage someone else to commit a crime or to provoke them, you may be guilty of inciting the commission of a crime. I would acknowledge that those are varieties of speech that might, in limited circumstances, justify the criminalization of certain kinds of speech.

In the case of Tarek Mehanna, the evidence presented thus far does not look all that compelling. He may have attempted to conspire with Al Qaeda, but they appear to have given him the brush-off. (Is there such a crime as attempted conspiracy?) He may also have attempted to incite his co-religionists to rise up and slay the infidels, but they appear to have ignored him. (Is there such a crime as attempted incitement?)

One odd feature of the case is that the government has not been very forthcoming in providing documents. Neither the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston nor the U.S. District Court is making it easy for citizens to follow along. Neither is Mehanna’s able defense attorney, Jay Carney.

So far, the biggest trove of documents has been  posted by an outfit that calls itself “Free Tarek.” So, as always, consider the source.

To be continued. . .


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David Carr is right again

By Chris Daly

In his column today, the New York Times media columnist does a brutal take-down of Craig Dubow, the value-destroying former head of the Gannett newspaper chain. (It gives me great pleasure to describe Gannett as a “chain,” because for all the years that I worked at the AP, we were forbidden to refer to any of the big newspaper chains as chains, because they carried such clout on the AP Board that they has succeed in banning the term chain in connection with their own businesses.)

Long story short: Dubow eviscerated the company, then walked off with a $37 million “bonus” package. What a racket.


BTW. . . Here is the company’s updated logo. (To my mind, it carries a kind of creepy aftertaste: What exactly is within reach? Whose reach? Sheesh.)


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Filed under Journalism, journalism history, New York Times, publishing, Tribune Co., Uncategorized

Hub Man Dies in L.A.

By Chris Daly

Norman Corwin, a Boston native who was not as well known here as he deserved to be, has died at the age of 101 after a long career in radio. Corwin, whose life spanned the birth, rise and decline of radio as a medium for serious popular drama, was a writer, producer, and director.

Erwin Corwin (photo by Carl Nesensohn/AP, via Washington Post)

You can read about him in these places:

The L.A. Times, which has the longest version (typical). Includes a photo gallery.

The New York Times, which includes some useful links.

The Washington Post, which also includes a photo gallery.

And NPR, which carries on the best traditions of American radio more or less alone, also has several sound galleries where you can hear Corwin or his works.


(Note to my students: we are going to see Corwin in a video next week in class. He appears in the Ken Burns film “Empire of the Air” about the history of radio.)


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Filed under Boston, broadcasting, Journalism, journalism history

Watching the media-watchers

By Chris Daly

I love the weekly NPR program “On the Media,” but I suppose even media-watchers need watching. I was disappointed by this past weekend’s segment about Mormons. My sense is that Brooke Gladstone prepared for that piece as if she were interviewing an expert when in fact she was interviewing an advocate. Ron Wilson, who was identified as a “senior manager for Internet and advertising,” was a flat-out advocate, well-prepared with claims, assertions, and soothing mis-directions.

One of the most glaring: Early in the exchange, Mr. Wilson asserted that Mormonism is “the fourth-largest church” in America. That is a deeply misleading statement, which suggests that Mormonism is a large part of American life. Nothing could be further from the truth, since 98.3% of Americans do not belong to it.

To begin with, Mr. Wilson did not define his terms. Clearly, he did not mean “church” in the sense of a building. He meant “church” more in the sense of a distinctive set of beliefs and practices.

For detailed, authoritative information about Americans’ beliefs and practices, there is no better source than the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. The Pew Forum conducts an annual “Religious Landscape Survey,” and the results are posted on the Pew website. (For another set of statistics, see the website Adherents.)

If we look at that data set, there are several ways to consider the findings.

First, though, we must consider how to relate Mormonism to other sets of belief and practices. Mormons like Mr. Wilson assert that “Mormons are Christians.” This is a proposition about which people disagree, but if we accept that assertion for the sake of argument, then Mormonism should be counted for these purposes as one denomination among dozens of Christian denominations in America. All told, Christians (including Catholics) make up a little over three-quarters of the adult U.S. population. In this analysis, they are followed by a category called “unaffiliated” (with 16.1%, including Atheists and Agnostics) and all Jewish branches combined (at 1.7%). I guess that if Mormons were trying to justify a claim of “fourth largest,” that is how they would have to do it: All Christians, non-believers, Jews, Mormons. But that would fly in the face of their assertion to be Christians. We know they are not Catholics, so they must be some other kind of Christian. Lets look at other Christians.

Most non-Catholic Christians are Protestants of one kind or another. Among Protestant denominations, the Pew survey makes distinctions between Evangelical Protestant Churches, Mainline Protestant Churches, and Historically Black Churches. Combined, incidentally, those groupings add up to 51.3% of the U.S. adult population.

So, in one sense, it would be accurate to say that a little more than half of Americans are Protestants, about a quarter are Catholics, and a big chunk of the rest are unaffiliated.

Another way to look at the data, of course, (which Pew does not do, probably to keep people from getting mad at them) would be to rank each measurable group of people who share a distinctive set of practices and beliefs. If we do that, the U.S. religious landscape looks quite different. It looks like this:

–23.9% Catholics

–16.1% Unaffiliated, including Atheist and Agnostic (see below)

–10.8% Baptist (evangelical)

–5.4% Methodist

–4.4% Baptist (in the black tradition)

–3.4% “nondenominational evangelical”

–3.4% Pentacostal

–2.8% Lutheran

–2.5% “Other/Protestant nonspecific in the Mainline Tradition”

–1.9 % “Protestant in the Evangelical Tradition”

–1.9% Baptist (non-evangelical)

–1.9% Presbyterian

In this way of looking at “churches,” Mormonism does not make it into the top 10 in America, even if we exclude the “unaffiliated,” which I think would be unfair.

One more point: looking at the details in the survey of Mormons, the Pew data indicate that a group known as “Mormon” makes up 1.7 percent of the U.S. adult population. But that grouping includes three sub-groups:

–1.6% Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the group that Wilson actually speaks for)

–<0.3% Community of Christ

–<0.3 Mormon, not further specified.

That leaves the LDS Church, the one that Republicans Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. belong to, at 1.6 percent. Such a figure leaves them tied with those who are willing to tell a survey questioner that they are Atheist. It also leaves LDS a good ways behind those who are willing to say they are Agnostic, a group that includes 2.4% of Americans. Combined, the number of Atheists and Agnostics – probably an understated number – make up 4%, which is a much larger group than many Christian denominations (e.g., Church of Christ, Evangelical Holiness, Episcopalian, Congregationalist, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Unitarians, etc.) and considerably larger than LDS.

So, to return to the original issue: in what sense can a “church” like LDS, which includes a sliver of the U.S. adult population, support a claim to be the “fourth largest church” in the country? In my judgment, that is just not a fact-based statement.

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Not to be missed

The New Yorker has a terrific piece by Ken Auletta about the still-new executive editor at the New York Times, Jill Abramson. (Full disclosure dept: I have known Jill since we were college classmates; I like her; and I admire her professionally. And I think her voice is charming.)

Much as I enjoy Auletta, I thought this piece could have focused a little less on management issues and more on politics. So, I would say the definitive piece may still be waiting to be written.

Jill Abramson (and Scout)

Photo by Mark Ellen Mark

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Filed under Harvard, Journalism, New York Times, Uncategorized

The Mobster and the Tipster

By Chris Daly 

More reasons to enjoy life in one of the last remaining two-newspaper cities in America. The Globe and the Herald continue to bash each other (as they should), sometimes at the risk of sounding silly.

A brief re-cap: The Globe began this round with a major piece on Sunday about mobster Whitey Bulger. The Herald, acting in reflexive opposition to its bitter rival and perhaps in a bit of pique about not having done that story themselves, let fly on Monday with what looked like a news story in which the FBI expressed its shock (shock, shock, shock!) over the Globe’s decision to divulge the identity of the tipster who led the FBI to Bulger. Since then, it has been back and forth all week with each newspaper using news articles, columns, and editorials to dump on the other.

Here are today’s updates from the Globe and the Herald. As a public service, I am also providing a link to the FBI statement that both papers are bickering over. It is a head-spinning experience to read all three documents in quick succession.

FWIW, here’s my take: The FBI is trying to tell each paper what it thinks they want to hear. Each paper is interpreting the same material in a way that conforms to its own gloss on the story. And on it goes.

In this case, it is not hard to imagine each paper working up just as much outrage over the opposite set of facts. Once a newspaper war breaks out, there are no neutrals. The winner (if any) will be the one that gets more readers out of it.






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Filed under Boston, Journalism, leaks, media

More on Red Sox

By Chris Daly 

Whatever you may think of Keith Olbermann as a cable-TV political journalist, the fact is that his background as a sportswriter supplied him with the ability to critically dissect a sports story. That is just what he has done in his blog about baseball, commenting on a major take-out in the Boston Globe that ran on Wednesday on page 1. The Globe story, by Bob Hohler, found plenty of  causes of death in his post-mortem on the 2011 season.

If you are wondering about the sourcing for the Globe story, I think Olbermann is on the right track by raising the question: Who benefits?

Keith and Terry in better times, 2007. (Photo by Jon SooHoo/LA Dodgers)

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Filed under blogging, Boston, Journalism, Olbermann, Red Sox

Not to be missed

An intelligent discussion of sources (in baseball) brought to us by the good folks at Grantland.



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Filed under Boston, Journalism, Red Sox, Uncategorized