Monthly Archives: November 2012

The power of reporting

By Christopher B. Daly

Today presents a good example of what makes the New York Times so valuable. When the “controversy” over the anti-Muhammad movie called “Innocence of Muslims” broke a couple of months ago, many news organizations covered it for a few days. Eventually, to judge by the evidence so far, they all threw in the towel and gave up trying to get to the bottom of the story of the Coptic deadbeat/activist Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (if that really is his name). All except the Times. In today’s edition, the paper presents a page-1 story with a double byline. Top billing went to Pulitzer-winner Serge Kovaleski, backed up by Brooks Barnes. But that’s not all. At the bottom of the story is a credit line that mentions four more people:

Ana Facio-Krajcer and Noah Gilbert contributed reporting from Los Angeles, and Mai Ayyad from Cairo. Jack Begg contributed research.

So, that is six journalists and counting. All of which is not to mention the folks on the photo desk and the several layers of editors who worked on this piece as well. In all, I would estimate that the full team was in the low double digits.

That is real reporting power. That is the Times’s way of saying: We don’t care how long it takes or how many people it takes, if we get interested in something, we are going to pursue it.

Is the Times perfect? Does the Times pursue every story you would like it to. Obviously not, but where would we be without it?

A man identified as Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (in white scarf) engages in a “perp walk” in California in September. Photo: Bret Hartman / Reuters

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Rave review for “Covering America”

By Christopher B. Daly 

My book Covering America drew an insanely enthusiastic review in the Providence Journal on Sunday. The timing reminds me: IMHO, this book would make a great holiday gift for anyone who cares about American journalism, American history, American politics, the tech revolution in news, Jefferson/Lincoln/FDR, WWI/WWI/Vietnam, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Have I left anyone out?

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It’s so much fun to be a journalist

. . .until it isn’t.

As this story suggests, Tweeting is a form of “publishing” and brings with it the responsibility not to make factual assertions about identifiable individuals that are libelous. Statements are libelous (at least in the United States) if they are


damaging to the person’s reputation,

–and costly to the victim in some tangible way.

So, to everyone online, I say: welcome to the ranks of  “the media.” Check your facts.

This is why the news media, for all their faults, have fact-checkers, editors, lawyers, standards, and schools of journalism. You should know your song well before you start singing.


AN UPDATE: Here is a different view, from Jonathan Zittrain. It ran in the Financial Times, but I can’t find a free way to read it. (Good for them, not so good for me.)

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Keeping up with the Murdochs

By Christopher B. Daly 

Now, British authorities are saying they plan to bring bribery charges against former top-ranking editors in the Murdoch media empire.

I’m confused: I thought these people were so intimidating and tight with the powers that be in Britain that they would not have to pay for anything. Sheesh.

Paying is so tacky.

No matter. Somehow, the troubles in Britain seem to have done little to slow down the News Corp. juggernaut. The Times says Murdoch (still never convicted of a felony in the U.S.) is shopping for new companies to acquire.

Now that the U.S. election is over, maybe we will be hearing from the Justice Dept about the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.



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The right’s war on holidays (pre “War on Xmas” edition)

By Christopher B. Daly

Who does more to harm American families, ruin the holidays, and undermine our traditional way of life?

Is it left-wing secularists? (as Bill O’Reilly and other right-wing commentators,would have it)

Or is it corporate America (opening stores on Thanksgiving night and making workers show up) and the crazy shoppers who line up to buy all that stuff?

A thought for the holiday season

Let’s try this: Just don’t shop. Stay home and actually be with your family. Go out in the yard and gather twigs and make little presents out of twigs. People who love you will love whatever you make.


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Why I am a Democrat

Why I am a Democrat

By Christopher B. Daly

It’s not because of the “gifts” that I supposedly get from the government, if we are to believe the recent confidential statements by Mitt Romney. Luckily, I have not needed the government very much in my life (so far) except for the blessings that good government brings to all the people – a terrific public education that lifted me to places I never thought I would go; safe streets and fire protection; clean drinking water and wholesome foods; confidence that my country would not be invaded and occupied by hostile armies.

The reason I am a Democrat is simple: on balance, over the long haul, the Democratic Party has been the single most effective agent for progressive change in America.

No, the party is not perfect. We have our own problems. We have our own corrupt and hypocritical leaders. Some Democratic leaders pander; some are slow to lead; a few are corrupt bozos. Democratic administrations sometimes screw up. Some Democratic voters do indeed have their hands out.

But look at the record. Since 1933, the Democratic Party has been the leading change-agent behind the following:

–the New Deal, including the right of workers to organize and the minimum wage

–Social Security

–the defeat of fascism in World War II

–the civil rights movement

–the (eventual) opposition to the War in Vietnam – and to all the subsequent unwise U.S. military adventures abroad

–the environmental movement, including global climate change

–the women’s movement

–the gay rights movement

–control of assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips

–immigrant rights

Needless to say, the Republican Party, as an institution, has resisted each of these long, broad campaigns to recognize the essential humanity of all people and to ensure their rights under law. The issue is not handouts; it is dignity, decency, personal rights, and global peace.

And it’s not as though the Republicans don’t give out “gifts” to their own constituents. If we are talking about political parties that use government as a source of giveaways to their supporters, I would say Republicans do not make such a charge with clean hands.

Republicans spend vast amounts, for example, on defense contracting (even more than the generals ask for). Through tax breaks, they reduce the effective tax rate on many rich Americans to a level below that of the average worker. Through tax expenditures, they subsidize agribusiness, the fossil fuel industry, and a host of other businesses that donate to Republicans or hire lobbyists to look out for their interests. This is the activity that progressives denounce as “corporate welfare” – a charge that many Republicans seem not to even acknowledge.

All that said, I am happy to grant that there are many issues where reasonable Americans can disagree. I will even stipulate that most Americans love our country and have its best interests at heart.

–Should taxes be a little higher or a little lower?

–Should government be a little bigger or a little smaller?

–Should we pay our public bills now or later?

Those questions define the bulk of what we in this essentially conservative, centrist society argue about when we engage in politics. Does anyone seriously think we could not solve those problems if we really put our minds to it?

If Mitt Romney does not understand all this, then he never deserved a role in our public life.

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Not to be missed: Jon Stewart’s takedown of Bill O’Reilly and Bernie Goldberg–it-was-the-best-of-times

No comment.

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New NYT exec: Up to the job?

By Christopher B. Daly 

Mark Thompson is wrapping up his first week as the new president and chief executive of the New York Times Company. That role puts him in a critical position in U.S. journalism, and he has little margin for error in leading the

Carl Court / AFP-Getty

Carl Court / AFP-Getty

country’s most important news-gathering organization through dangerous and economically challenging times. We all need him to succeed.

And yet.

It is beginning to appear that the Times Company’s principal owner and publisher of the flagship newspaper, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., may have picked the wrong person for the job. The reason for that has to do with Thompson’s last job, as an executive with the BBC. The British broadcasting empire, a tower of journalistic probity, is going through its own scandal.

To its credit, the Times is pursuing the question of what Thompson knew and when he knew it — apparently without much fear or favor. This is as it should be. My concern is that, fairly or unfairly, Thompson may be so damaged by his BBC baggage that he has to go.

Tentatively, I would say Thompson either knew of serious wrongdoing at the BBC and did nothing, or else he did not know and should have. Either way, he is compromised.



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Q: What’s wrong with U.S. higher ed?

A: It costs too much.

We are doing some things right in higher education, but we are getting this big one wrong. This is one of the saddest stories I have seen in a while.


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Follow the money (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

Is political spending the same as political speech? Does it deserve the same constitutional protections? Is there anything that can be done to undo the 2010 Citizens United ruling by the Supreme Court?

Those are some of the questions raised by the 2012 elections. In the Times, Nicholas Confessore has been doing a good job keeping an eye on the money in politics, and today he weighs in with a “political memo.” (Is that reporting? analysis? opinion?)

One point the memo makes is that if you have a huge number of donors each giving a small amount, you can raise all the money you need to counter the impact of a small number of huge donors. Look at it this way:

100 wealthy donors give $1 million each.

100 x 1,000,000 = 100,000,000

1 million ordinary donors give $100 each:

1,000,000 x 100 = 100,000,000

So, it’s a tie. That shows the power of a million people acting together.

A question remains: How are we better off as a society with all that spending?


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