Monthly Archives: October 2012

Ban the NCAA (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

More evidence of the gulf between big-time football and higher education:


In a recent tweet, Ohio State reserve qb Cardale Jones had this to say:

Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play FOOTBALL, we ain’t come to play SCHOOL, classes are POINTLESS. (emphasis in original)

Why indeed?



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Math for journalists (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

When the latest jobs figures came out on Friday, one of the first dissenting voices was that of Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric. In a Twitter message, he expressed overt skepticism about the integrity of the numbers generated by the non-partisan Bureau of Labor Statistics. Welch suggested that the falling unemployment rate did not square with an overall economy that he considers sluggish.

Many journalists quoted him at face value. Few noted that Welch is a Republican and a Republican donor.

Even fewer noted that much of Welch’s personal fortune takes the form of GE stock. Which raises the question: What has happened to the value of GE stock since Obama took office?

Turns out, the Obama years have been very good years for GE (and thus for Welch). When Obama took office in January 2009, GE stock was in the toilet, trading at about $12 a share. At the close of trading on Friday, GE stock was valued at about $23 a share. In other words, the value of the stock has nearly doubled under this president.

Who says the economy is not improving?

If anybody would know, it should be Jack Welch.


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Red Sox 2012: RIP

This, alas, has to be said.

(And a hat-tip to Charlie Pierce for saying it.)

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Presidential debate: The global perspective

By Christopher B. Daly

I had the opportunity to watch the presidential debate last night with a unique group of non-voters: a dozen grad students enrolled in the Journalism Dept at Boston University. I teach all of these great young people in a special class for the new students from overseas.


As you can see, they were really dialed in and asked great questions.


I think quite a few of them were perplexed by Obama’s disappointing performance (but were too polite to dump on him!).

Note to academic advisers: tell your students not to take classes with professors whose eyes are shut.

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Notable historians die

By Christopher B. Daly

This week brings news of the deaths of two of the most prominent (and controversial) historians of the post-War period.

Eugene Genovese, a Marxist-turned-Catholic conservative. Author of a key work in the history of U.S. slavery: Roll, Jordan, Roll.





Eric Hobsbawm, a Communist nearly to the end. Author of a trilogy of essential works.




Rather than fight over who was a good person, we can do them and ourselves a favor by reading (or re-reading) their work and, in a spirit of free inquiry, judging it for ourselves.


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Journalism history: a personal note

By Christopher B. Daly 

The Times has a piece today in the Science section about the downside of not drinking alcohol in certain professions. Speaking for the news business, I would say that would be a definite drawback — or at least it was, back in the 1970s, when I was breaking in. Without taking a position on the merits of drinking, I will say I was taken back by the photo that illustrates today’s Times piece: it shows the Pig ‘N’ Whistle, a bar on W. 48th St. in Manhattan, just south of Rockefeller Center. That’s the place where I and my colleagues at The Associated Press (50 Rock) went to drink (ahem, after work), joined by our colleagues from NBC News (30 Rock) and the various media over on 6th Ave.

It’s good to know that “the Pig” is still in business, quenching journalists’ thirsts.


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Math for Journalists (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly 

What better way to learn about math for journalists than from one of our own?

Happily, the nonpareil Nate Silver of the NYTimes has a new book out in which he explains the math behind polls, predictions and other predicaments that reporters cover all the time and rarely understand in depth. The book seems to be very much of a piece with his work at the Times, on the blog “FiveThirtyEight” (named for the number of votes in the Electoral College).

His book is called The Signal and the Noise, and it weighs in at 534 pages! (I can only imagine what kind of arguments must have gone back and forth about that length with the folks at Penguin. I’m no mathematician, but I am a book author, and I can tell you that publishers are allergic to long non-fiction books.)

Here is a review of Signal and Noise from the Sunday Globe. And, just for fun, here’s a link to the Wikipedia page about the engineering concept of “signal/noise ratio” — complete with mathematical formulas!)




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Punch Sulzberger: A great publisher

By Christopher B. Daly

The recent death of Punch Sulzberger, publisher of the New York Times, (1963-1992) has prompted an  outburst of obituaries, memories, and tributes — all deserved as far as I can determine.

Here is the Times’ own vast obit with sidebars galore. Here is a wonderful tribute from longtime NYT

Arthur "Punch" Sulzberger, by Andrea Ventura

Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger, by Andrea Ventura

m.e. Max Frankel.


In my humble opinion, Punch was the epitome of a great publisher, mainly on          the strength of two positions he took:



1. He consistently acted on the principle that his job as publisher was to make money to support great journalism. Everything else was secondary — including making money to enrich the company’s investors (many of whom were his siblings and cousins). This is no small thing, as anyone who ever worked for a broke or nearly broke news organization can testify.

2. Although he occupied a prominent position near the pinnacle of the American Establishment, he made the right call on the biggest challenge of his career, even though it meant defying that very establishment. I am thinking of his magnificent courage in the Pentagon Papers case in 1971. Shortly after his retirement, Sulzberger was asked about what was the toughest call he had been required to make while publisher. Without hesitating, he answered that it was the Pentagon Papers case.

Here is an excerpt from my book, Covering America, that shows Punch at work:

. . .The set [of photocopies of the Pentagon Papers] held by the Times represented an unprecedented breach of the national security classification system, and anyone in possession of the report could face criminal charges, not merely of stealing government property but perhaps even of espionage or, ultimately, treason. Indeed, that was the opinion reached by the Times’ longtime law firm, Lord Day & Lord. Senior partner Louis M. Loeb objected to the idea of publishing leaked military secrets in wartime, which he considered irresponsible and unpatriotic, and he warned that the government would be sure to prosecute the newspaper and its top executives. He urged the editors to return the papers to the government. Punch Sulzberger decided to listen instead to the company’s in-house counsel, Jim Goodale, who was more sanguine about keeping everyone out of jail. With that question still unresolved, Sulzberger decided to let the project move forward but to proceed carefully. By now, he had eight years as publisher under his belt, and he felt a lot more confident than he had in his first year, when JFK had tried to bully him into transferring Halberstam out of Saigon. Still, confronting the president of the United States would be a challenge.

In one room at the hotel, Sulzberger assembled the newspaper’s lawyers to help him decide whether to publish anything at all. They argued over issues of sedition, corporate liability, and professional responsibility. In another room he assembled a select group of the newspaper’s senior editors and top reporters to wade into the documents and help him determine what to publish. It was tough going in both rooms. In the roomful of journalists, the Pentagon Papers were providing dozens of leads and tantalizing revelations. But the report as a whole was so vast that it would take a long time to find a storyline in there. What was the upshot? What was the headline? Week after week, debates raged in both rooms. Was the Times about to break the law by publishing classified information during wartime? Would the government bring a charge of treason? If so, could the paper survive? Finally, the stories were ready.

It all came down to Sulzberger. It was time to say yes or no, time to put all his chips—the paper he loved, his family’s legacy, the good of his country—on the table. His answer was yes. So on Saturday, June 12, 1971, while President Nixon was dancing in the White House at the wedding of his daughter Tricia and enjoying what he called the happiest day of his presidency, the typesetters and pressmen at the Times started printing the stories that would bring about a first-order constitutional crisis. . .


–from Covering America, by Christopher B. Daly


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