Monthly Archives: May 2012

A new series: Money in politics

By Chris Daly 

I am launching a new series of posts (like the “Math for Journalists” series) to focus on the impact of money in politics.

I first started paying attention to this issue in the 1980s, when I was covering politics full-time for The Associated Press. My perch was the Massachusetts Statehouse. As the chief of a small bureau there, I lead a team of four who covered government and politics — including elections. Most of those elections were for state office (including the U.S. Senate and House races), but they also included a presidential race in 1987-88 when former Gov. Mike Dukakis took it into his head to run for president. That race, just six election cycles ago, now seems quaint in light of the Supreme Court rulings that have since unleashed spending of a type and scale unknown before. We are in uncharted waters here.

Today’s Times brings a story about a hidden reality of the new Super PACs. For the top guns in political consulting, the Super PACs are, in many ways, more desirable as clients than are actual candidates. When you work for a candidate, you have to travel, you have to deal with volatile spouses and staffers, you have to obey campaign-finance laws that force you to raise money in small amounts from large numbers of individuals.

What the Times story doesn’t say but seems equally important is this: if you work for a candidate, there is a good chance your candidate will lose. The voters can reject the campaign or the campaigner, and the whole staff — including consultants — is, in effect, fired, by the people. Not so with the Super PACs. They don’t ever “lose” in the same sense that a candidate does. They can just hang around forever, banging away at the donors’ pet priorities. In political terms, they are immortal.

Consider “Americans for Rick Perry.” This was a Super PAC that was run by a Republican strategist named Bob Schuman. When Perry dropped out of the Republican presidential primary, Schuman — to use a Texas metaphor — had his horse shot out from under him. No matter. Schuman just got a fresh mount and reorganized as the Restoring Prosperity Fund, pushing the same agenda on behalf of many of the same donors.

One way to look at all this: money is, in effect, dis-enfranchising voters. If you don’t agree with a particular office-holder or candidate, you can vote against him or her. If enough of your fellow citizens agree, then that candidate is done.

But not so with the Super PACs. You can never vote to get rid of them.

Your view? Leave a comment.

(To be continued. . .)


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Horst Faas, great news photographer, dies at 79

By Chris Daly

One of the most important photographers and photo editors of the last century has died. Horst Faas, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner during his long career at The Associated Press, was 79.

Obits are here and here and here.

Horst Faas in a heroic pose / AP Photo

Faas really made his mark in Vietnam, where he was stationed from 1962 through 1973. There, he planned the coverage, trained new photographers and photo stringers, edited many of the most memorable images of the war, and shot photos himself. From the tiny darkroom in the bathroom of the AP’s Saigon bureau, he was responsible for much of the “look” of the war.

Two photos are always associated with Faas and his constant efforts to disseminate photos that would show the reality of war:

–in 1968, during the Tet Offensive, the AP photographer Eddie Adams snapped a photo of a South Vietnamese officer executing a Vietcong prisoner. The photo caught the very moment when the bullet entered the prisoner’s head and captured something about the offhand violence of the war.

Eddie Adams / AP Photo

–in 1972, he fought to transmit the unforgettable image of a young girl fleeing naked and screaming from a napalm attack. The picture was shot by Nick Ut, a Vietnamese photographer trained by Faas, and the decision to send it out was one that Faas fought hard for. I remember seeing it on the front page of the Boston Globe on the day it was published in 1972 and never could forget it.

Nick Ut / AP Photo

As I discovered in researching my new book on the history of journalism, Covering America, Faas was also responsible for another of the most emblematic photos of the Vietnam War, the photo from 1962 of a monk burning himself to death in protest against the government of South Vietnam. The photo was taken by AP correspondent Malcolm Browne. But Browne was a reporter/writer, not a photographer. The only reason he was carrying a camera that day was that Faas insisted that all AP correspondents learn to take photos and carry cameras with them. Back at home, union rules forbade AP correspondents from shooting photos, but in Vietnam, those rules didn’t apply, and Faas wisely turned everyone into a photographer.

Recently, while researching the photos for my book, I came across Faas photo. This is a photo that I knew I wanted for my book, but I had a devil of a time figuring out who owned the rights to it. I had seen it variously credited to TIME and the New York Times (both wrong) and to the AP (not quite right either). It is a photo that shows three of the key U.S. correspondents stationed in Saigon during the early years of the war: David Halberstam of the Times, Mal Browne of the AP, and Neil Sheehan of UPI (later of the Times). They are standing around in front of a helicopter. Browne is smoking and Sheehan holds a big map.

According to Faas, he took the photo himself. And he told me that he took it with his own personal camera and that it never belonged to AP. But rather than rile the AP and its lawyers, he sent me the image directly via email and said to go ahead and use it with his blessing. Here’s what he wrote late last year:

I took the photo at the time as a personal picture and should have it in my personal computer files. I will look for it beginning next week: No time now – I am off for a quick trip (without my computer). Since all my material at the time was officially AP material I don”t want to get in conflict with AP and would give you the photo “courtesy of..” i.e. free of charge, In return I would be interested in a copy of your book once it is published. OK?

Best regards, Horst Faas

Thanks again, Horst.

I also want to share another photo that Faas sent me (“courtesy of” the photographer). It shows the press corps in Saigon in 1963:


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Woody Sez: See this play

By Chris Daly

I had the pleasure of seeing a new play/musical revue about Woody Guthrie the other night at the A.R.T. Theater in Cambridge (Mass.). The show, called “Woody Sez,” is a fantastic telling of Woody’s amazing life, mainly through his own songs. It is nearly a one-man show, featuring David Lutken, who is charming and disarming. He is supported by Andy Teirstein, Darcie Deaville, and Helen Jean Russell — all playing a constantly shifting array of acoustic stringed instruments. All told, they use four guitars (including two old Martins), three fiddles, a viola, a dulcimer, a double bass, a mandolin, and a banjo — along with a bunch of non-string instruments, including autoharp, harmonica, pennywhistle, jaw harp and spoons.

The show is a real hoot. (A special treat: seeing more than a hundred or so egg-heads stomping their feet and clapping time to songs like “Union Made” and “Biggest Thing that Man has Ever Done.”)

There were big chunks of Woody’s life that were familiar from reading Woody’s own 1943 autobiography, Bound for Glory, as well as Joe Klein’s 1980 biography, Woody Guthrie: A Life. Still, “Woody Sez” managed to bring up material that was new to me.  I had never noticed how much Woody suffered. Like another great American original , Mark Twain, Woody knew terrible suffering, early and often throughout his life.

Many thanks to David Lutken and his collaborator, Nick Corley for putting this together, and for getting it on-stage in time for the centennial of Guthrie’s birth, which is coming up on July 12.

My only issue is that I would love to see this show break out of the confines of a pricey theater like the A.R.T. and get into every high school, dance hall, barn, and fire station in the country. That’s where this music really belongs.

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AP Apologizes for WWII Blunder

By Chris Daly

I was very pleased to see that my old employer, The Associated Press, finally did the right thing and apologized to a great correspondent who was wronged in 1945 as he broke the news about the end of the fighting in Europe. The apology came earlier this week on the 67th anniversary of the surrender of Germany.

Settle in: There’s quite a story behind the story of the end of the fighting in World War II in Europe. The date of the official celebrations was May 8, 1945, known as V-E Day, for victory in Europe. Much fighting remained to be done in the Pacific, where Japan was still refusing to recognize the now-inevitable Allied victory.

Back to Europe.

In early May, 1945, the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) command selected 17 correspondents from the world’s press and flew them to Riems, France to witness the surrender on behalf of the rest of the press and the people of the world.

There were very few Americans in the group. The ones who were there represented the big wire services and syndicates. In fact, not a single reporter representing a U.S. newspaper was present.

According to the allied military commanders, the news was to be embargoed: that is, you had to accept a deal. In exchange for access to the event, you had to agree to hold the news until the Army said you could release it. The SHAEF press officer said: “I pledge each one of you on his honour as a correspondent and as an assimilated officer of the United States Army not to communicate [the news] until it is released on the order of hte Public Relations Director of SHAEF.”

It remains unclear what constitutes an “agreement” under such conditions (what were the correspondents supposed to do — get up and walk out of an airplane?), but they proceeded to witness the ceremony.

The surrender by the German high command came in the early hours of May 7. Ordinarily, you might expect that the surrender would touch off immediate celebrations.

Not so fast.

The press officer announced that orders had come “from a high political level” to impose a news blackout until 8 p.m. the next day, when the news would be announced simultaneously in Paris, London, Moscow and Washington. (Turned out, Stalin was insisting on the delay so he could make a show in Berlin.) In other words, all the correspondents who had been eyewitnesses would lose their scoops. Instead, some desk-bound rewrite man or editor would get all the glory. The reporters protested tothe SHAEF press officer, but to no avail. The political leaders had decided.

Ed Kennedy, the Paris bureau chief for the AP and a veteran of coverage of the North Africa and Italian campaigns.

Among the press corps, one of the most upset was Edward Kennedy — not the late Democratic senator from Massachusetts but a man by the same name who was the chief correspondent in Europe for the AP. Bear in mind, Kennedy was in a special position. He had been burned earlier in the war when he cooperated with military brass. In 1943, Kennedy had agreed to suppress a story about Gen. George Patton and had gotten scooped by someone else. (See my book, Covering America, pgs 269-70.) Kennedy also knew that his account of the German surrender could probably reach more people on the planet than any other. He knew, too, that the AP thrives on being first and that throughout the ages, AP men (and a tiny but growing number or women) had gone to great lengths to be first to deliver the news.

Besides, he figured, no embargo on such a momentous story could hold for that long. (Nor, perhaps should it.) He was still fuming when the correspondents were marched back onto the military plane. They were flown from Reims back to Paris. Still, the world knew nothing of the surrender. Still, soldiers in Europe kept shooting at each other.

When they landed, Boyd Lewis of United Press got the first jeep from the airport to the Hotel Scribe in Paris, which had been serving as the outpost for most of the press corps. When Lewis got to the press center, he tried to tid up all the available telegraph outlets. Next in line was James Kilgallen of INS, who had beaten Kennedy to the spot by throwing his typewriter at Kennedy’s legs, slowing him down.

Kennedy was beside himself. Then he heard that SHAEF had ordered German radio to announce the surrender.

Kennedy went to the censors and announced that he was breaking the embargo. Using a telephone, he called the AP bureau in London and dictated the following lead:

REIMS, France, May 7_Germany surrendered unconditionally to the Western Allies and the Soviet Union at 2:41 a.m. French time today.

The surrender took place at a little red schoolhouse that is the headquaters of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower…..

Within minutes, the news was flashed to the world, and wild celebrations began.

SHAEF was furious and suspended AP filing facilities throughout Europe. The rest of the press corps was furious, too. More than 50 correspondents signed a protest to SHAEF Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower, calling Kennedy’s action “the most disgraceful, deliberate and unethical double cross in the history of journalism.”AP’s president apologized to the nation. AP brass told Kennedy he could keep his job if he admitted he had done wrong. He wouldn’t and was fired.

What might seem amazing today — aside from the lack of cell phones and other forms of instant global communication — is how unanimously the correspondents fell in line with the military. Today, I dare say, U.S. reporters would be at least split about the ethics of something that they new to be both true and life-saving.

Two weeks later, writing in The New Yorker, A.J. Liebling, the great World War II reporter and press critic, took up the issue of Kennedy’s firing in his column “The Wayward Press.” (May 19, 1945) Liebling’s take:

The great row over Edward Kennedy’s Associated Press story of the signing of the German surrender at Reims served to point up the truth that if you are smart enough you can kick yourself in the pants, grab yourself by the back of the collar, and throw yourself out on the sidewalk. This is an axiom that I hope will be taught to future students of journalism as Liebling’s Law.

I certainly teach it that way. His piece continued:

I do not think that Kennedy imperiled the lives of any Allied soldiers by sending the story, as some of his critics have charged. He probably saved a few, because by withholding the announcement of an armistice you prolong the shooting, and, conversely, by announcing it promptly you make the shooting stop. Moreover, the Germans had broadcast the news of the armistice several hours before Kennedy’s story appeared on the streets of New York. . . The thing that has caused the most hard feeling is that Kennedy broke a “combination,” which means that he sent out a story after all the correspondents on the assignment had agreed not to. But the old-fashioned “combination” was an agreement freely reached among reporters and not a pledge imposed upon the whole group by somebody outside it.

There’s a lot more to learn from Liebling’s piece, but that’s the nub.

I wonder how Liebling would greet the news this week that the AP has finally apologized to Kennedy. I wonder how Kennedy, who died in 1963, would have greeted the news. (For more on Kennedy, see the newly published memoir Ed Kennedy’s War: V-E Day, Censorship, and the Associated Press.

As for me, I say the AP was late — 67 years late.


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New Bradlee biography

By Chris Daly 

Disclaimer: I have not read the new biography of Ben Bradlee by Jeff Himmelman, called Yours in Truth. I am merely passing on a review, by Jack Shafer.

Shafer, who is hardly a sentimentalist, makes an important point midway through the review about the Woodward&Bernstein’s book All The President’s Men, which is their version of their Watergate reporting.

Here is the take-away from Shafer’s recent piece for Reuters:

Say what you will about Woodward and his reportorial techniques—and many journalists and scholars have weighed in—All the President’s Men has withstood rigorous scrutiny over the past four decades. Entire books have been dedicated to its examination. While its treatment of Watergate is not complete or perfect, the book is a powerful document of the investigation.

One of the more appealing aspects of All the President’s Men is the authors’ willingness to portray themselves in a less-than-flattering light. Bernstein is shown trampling ethics and possibly breaking the law by asking an employee at a credit card company, and another at a telephone company, to lift records. Woodward repeatedly expands his agreement with Deep Throat, phoning him after promising to stay away from the phone and quoting him anonymously in the paper after vowing never to do so. And by quoting Deep Throat at length, All the President’s Men violates the sourcing arrangement completely.

It needs to be said: after more than three decades, no jealous journalist (or bitter conservative) has poked any serious holes in ATPM or done anything like a knock-down. The story stands.

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Why don’t men wear hats?

By Chris Daly 

Union Square Rally, 1912 (Library of Congress)

Now, we have the answer — or at least, an answer — from the reliably delightful Robert Krulwich. The culprit: Dwight Eisenhower, who did in fact wear hats from time to time. Ike’s role in eliminating the hat was more roundabout, according to Krulwich. Ike is credited with launching the Interstate Highway system,which made the automobile the No.1 way of getting places. The automobile, in turn, actually did in the hat, because the typical car does not have enough room above the occupants’ heads to accommodate a real hat.

Seems plausible enough to merit a hat-tip for Krulwich.


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Another view of Murdoch

By Chris Daly

Don’t say this blog is one-sided, even on the subject of Rupert Murdoch. The British writer William Shawcross recently stuck up for Murdoch in this piece in the Guardian.

Shawcross, who wrote a 1992 biography of Murdoch, is in a position to comment. I just disagree.

Here’s the take-away from Shawcross:

Rupert Murdoch has been the bravest and most radical media owner in Britain in the last 40 years.

There are caveats. It is insupportable for any tabloid, whether the Sun, the NoW, the Mirror or the Mail to “monster” individuals. But tabloids are an essential part of a vibrant market and the Sun is an excellent paper, catering well to its audience.

Without Murdoch there could never have been such a varied newspaper market in Britain during the last 25 years. Newspapers were dying until he confronted and defeated the greedy print unions. Only after his victory at Wapping did newspapers – on the left as well as on the right – have the chance to flourish. Murdoch’s purchase of Times Newspapers saved that company. It’s hard to think of any other proprietor who would have sustained its huge losses year after year.

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CNN: the “E.R.” of TV news?

By Chris Daly

Insightful piece today by Brian Stelter in the Times. It raises the question: Is CNN like the emergency room of a hospital that cannot fill its inpatient beds? CNN is very busy during crises, but it becomes a lonely place during periods of routine news. That certainly rings true in my experience: on an election night, I’m a visitor of CNN for sure. If I hear a snatch of something startling on the radio and want to hear/see more right away, I will snap on CNN. If all hell is breaking loose somewhere, it’s usually my top choice (certainly far ahead of cable-news leader Fox News, which has so few correspondents who can jump on breaking news).

Fundamentally, this problem has been with CNN almost from the get-go. Here’s an excerpt from my book, Covering America, about the founding of CNN and its basic business problem. 

. . .By approaching cable news this way, [CNN founder Ted] Turner was coincidentally creating a new business model for TV journalism. Unlike the networks, CNN did not plan to build a huge entertainment division that would have to create or bid for programs. And unlike public television, CNN was not dependent on public subsidies, foundation grants, or donations from the audience. Instead, Turner was adapting an older business model from newspapers. In the CNN approach, TV news would be paid for through a “dual revenue stream.” Just as newspapers made money from two sources—advertising and subscriptions—so would CNN. The company would sell ads, and it would also have a steady stream of revenue coming in from the cable operators, who had to pay CNN a few pennies per customer per month, reflecting CNN’s share of the monthly cable TV bills that Americans were getting used to paying. With low costs and two fairly reliable streams of revenue, news on cable just might work.

Ready or not, on June 1, 1980, CNN made its debut. There were the inevitable mishaps (the cleaning lady who walked across the set behind the anchor while the cameras were rolling), but the impressive thing was that it worked. CNN started covering the news that day and has done so continuously ever since—days, nights, weekends, holidays. Only the AP could make a similar claim, (though it supplies news to the industry rather than directly to the public). Soon, Turner was showing the skeptics that it was in fact possible to put news on television round the clock. Yes, it was sometimes raggedy. And yes, there was a lot still to accomplish—including hammering out reciprocal video-sharing agreements with affiliates, hiring more and more staff, opening bureaus around the world. But it worked.

By the end of 1981, CNN was getting established. It was reaching 10 million households and was clawing its way to journalistic parity with the network news divisions.18 One key issue was what is known as “pool coverage.” This occurs in many settings when there is not enough room to accommodate all the media people who wish to cover some location or event, such as a courtroom, a presidential appearance with limited access, or the like. In those cases, the answer is a pool, in which all the journalists in each medium agree to cooperate. Typically, each medium gets to put one representative at the scene. In return for that access, the chosen journalist agrees to share the results with all the other members of the pool in the same medium. In addition, each member of the pool agrees to take a turn in providing the feed. This arrangement assumes, of course, that anyone participating in the pool will produce work of high enough quality to satisfy all the others. CNN was originally scorned by the networks, which refused to let CNN crews participate in the White House television pool coverage. It took a lawsuit (which cost Turner another $1 million), but eventually CNN was allowed in.

One of the early tests of CNN as a news organization came on March 30, 1981. President Reagan gave a speech that day to the AFL-CIO at the Washington Hilton. CNN covered the speech live and then, when it was over, switched to some filler material, about sewing in China. While that was airing, the police scanner in CNN’s Washington bureau barked: “Shots fired . . . Hilton Hotel.” Almost immediately, the veteran newscaster Bernard Shaw sat down in the anchor chair in the CNN Washington bureau and began reporting that shots had been fired at the president—a full four minutes before the networks. Shaw stayed in the chair for more than seven hours, and, with help from Dan Schorr, proved that the fledgling news service could keep up with the established networks. Through the evening, CNN kept breaking in with new details: a picture of the shooter’s home, a report on his motive, pictures of the vice president in Texas heading to Washington. According to one account of that day: “Such details were hitting the air in no particular sequence. CNN’s viewers got the story in the jumbled way a journalist receives fragments of information before transforming them into an orderly, polished report. The ‘process’ of gathering news determined the form in which that news was delivered.” Before CNN, viewers had received their news in measured doses at fixed times; now they were drinking straight from the fire hose.

For years, CNN cost more to produce than it brought in through the combined revenues of cable subscriptions and advertising. The network was burning through Ted Turner’s personal wealth at an unsustainable rate. The early years were a desperate race to get CNN included in enough viewers’ basic cable packages to pay for itself. Most of the costs of gathering and disseminating the news by cable were fixed; the great variable was the size of the audience. Beginning in 1978, from the pre-launch investments in people, property, satellite time, and equipment, CNN lost an estimated $77 million through 1984.20 But then in 1985, CNN began posting profits: $20 million that year and more in the coming years. In the grow-or-die spirit of modern capitalism, Turner soon started thinking about acquiring other businesses. At the same time, a profitable CNN was looking more attractive to other investors, who might try to take it over. By the end of the decade, CNN was earning almost $90 million a year and had an estimated value of $1.5 billion. At the decade mark, on June 1, 1990, it could be seen in 53 million homes in the United States and in eighty-four countries worldwide. CNN had nine U.S. bureaus and another eighteen overseas, with a global total of some 1,800 employees. CNN had arrived. . .


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“Not a Fit Person”

By Chris Daly 

Well, now it’s official. Something that many people have thought for a long time is now part of the findings of a British parliamentary report: Rupert Murdoch is “not a fit person” to run a globe-straddling, influence-buying, phone-hacking, official-bribing media conglomerate.

Actually, the report released Tuesday may not be Murdoch’s biggest problem. He is already under investigation in the United States as well. Murdoch became a U.S. citizen in the mid-1980s, a move that facilitated his move into American broadcasting (since U.S. law requires that broadcasting remain in the hands of U.S. citizens). Perhaps more serious for Murdoch is the fact that his News Corp. (parent company of the British unit that is in trouble in Parliament) is a U.S. corporation, registered on the New York Stock Exchange. That means that News Corp. is subject to all the laws and regulations of the United States — including the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. That law, dating to the 1970s, forbids U.S. companies from using their assets to pay bribes to officials in other countries. On the face of it, that would appear to make it a crime in the U.S. for News Corp. employees to do what they have already admitted under oath in Parliament: for years, they paid British police police officials for tips about their investigations.

If I were Murdoch (or even a shareholder in News Corp., which operates Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, among many others), that’s what I would be really worried about.

Recent stories are here, here and here.

News Corp. world headquarters in Manhattan / Kathy Willens (AP)

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