Monthly Archives: February 2013

Tesla v. NYTimes

By Christopher B. Daly

I have been hanging fire on this one, but now comes a terrific blogpost by Dave Weinberger that not only has a wise take on the whole thing, but it also contains most of the relevant links. That way, you can see all the original contributions to this fascinating dust-up between  the New York Times and Tesla Motors. My problem is, I want them both to be right (and adult about it), so I am waiting for more data to emerge.

Vroom or bust?

Vroom or bust?

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Minimum wage: international comparisons

By Christopher B. Daly

Thanks to Wikipedia, here is a chart showing how the current U.S. minimum wage compares to the minima in other countries (at least, those that have a minimum.)

For handy reference, below is the same chart reorganized a bit. What I did was to sort the annual wage column (the amount a person in a given country would earn by toiling at the minimum for an entire year) in a descending fashion. So here you can see, already converted into US$, how we stack up. We are #12 on the list.

(Note: some countries were excluded for various reasons; if they were counted here, I bet that Sweden, Norway, and Germany would all rank ahead of the USA.)

Screen Shot 2013-02-13 at 1.27.34 PM

 

The list goes on and on, but I could only capture so much in a single screen shot.

 

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NBC News now a tiny cog in Comcast

By Christopher B. Daly

It is worth noting that the once-mighty NBC News division is now a tiny cog in the giant money-making machine thatimgres-1 is Comcast. Exercising a legal prerogative, the giant cable provider decided to go ahead and gobble up the rest of NBC Universal that it did not already own.

As a result, the entire NBC Universal, including TV news carried by NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, et al, are now owned by the biggest cable provider in the US. So, from one point of view, the journalists at NBC News have a new set of conflicts of interest: how do they cover Comcast and its many problems, regulatory issues, lobbying efforts, etc.?

Before anyone gets too teary-eyed, it should be noted that NBC Universal is a kind of trophy being passed back and forth between multibillion conglomerates. To put it in perspective, NBC News is a tiny part of NBC Universal (which is mainly an entertainment company with a news caboose.) 

imgres-4According to today’s Times, NBC Universal was sold for $17 billion or so from GE (a $147 billion corporation) to Comcast (a $62.5 billion corporation).

 

 

 

 

Some history of all these players:

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(via Wikipedia)

Comcast Cable was originally formed as American Cable Systems in 1963[9] and was founded by Ralph J. Roberts, Daniel Aaron and Julian A. Brodsky based on a recommendation from Pete Musser, who brought the deal to Ralph Roberts to buy his first cable system in Tupelo, Mississippi. The company was incorporated in Pennsylvania in 1969, under the new nameComcast Corporation.[10][dead link] The name “Comcast” is a portmanteau of the words “Communication” and “Broadcast”.[11]

Then, there’s GE:

(via Wikipedia)

Before 1889, Thomas Edison had business interests in many electricity-related companies. . . In 1889, Drexel, Morgan & Co., a company founded by J.P. Morgan and Anthony J. Drexel, financed Edison’s research and helped merging those companies under one corporation to form Edison General Electric Company which was incorporated in New York on April 24, 1889. The new company also acquired Sprague Electric Railway & Motor Company in the same year.[12][13]

At about the same time, Charles Coffin, leading Thomson-Houston Electric Company, acquired a number of competitors and gained access to their key patents.
General Electric was formed by the 1892 merger of Edison General Electric Company of Schenectady, New York and Thomson-Houston Electric Company of Lynn, Massachusetts with the help of Drexel, Morgan & Co.[13] Both plants continue to operate under the GE banner to this day.[14] The company was incorporated in New York, with the Schenectady plant used as headquarters for many years thereafter.

In 1919, GE formed a subsidiary called the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) to get into the new business of imgres-2manufacturing radios. A few years later, RCA executives, led by chief executive David Sarnoff, realized that they could also make money by providing programming to radio (and thereby stimulate further sales of the hardware, too), and they formed the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). In radio, NBC quickly became dominant in entertainment programming and in the brand-news enterprise of putting news on the airwaves.

In 1930, GE sold off RCA under antitrust pressure from the government. Operating independently, RCA moved into its new headquarters in the new Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, taking over the most prominent address in the complex, the skyscraper known as “30 Rock.” NBC was so dominant in radioimgres-5 that, again under antitrust pressure in 1943, it spun off a big chunk of its radio operations, which became the core of the new ABC.

Sarnoff pushed RCA and NBC into television after WWII, and NBC News evolved from primarily a radio operation into primarily a tv operation. In the following decades, NBC News grew into a large-scale news-gathering operation, associated with its prominent TV evening news anchors: Chet Huntley & David Brinkley, John Chancellor, and Tom Brokaw.

In 1986, GE bought RCA back and brought into the corporate fold once again, adding broadcasting to its global mix of businesses ranging from lightbulbs to locomotives to jet engines to finance and a lot of other things. So, once again, RCA/NBC was a small part of a big corporation. In that context, NBC News had plenty of conflicts of interest when it came to covering GE, since it was a large defense contractor and had a hand in dozens of industries.

If it is true that “freedom of the press belongs only to those who own one,” we are still a long way from having a truly free and independent NBC News division.

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Westminister dog show gets it wrong, again

By Christopher B. Daly

Well, they’ve done it again. The judges at the Westminster Kennel Club have chosen a silly, small breed of dog as this year’s “Best in Show.” They picked an “affenpinscher.” An affenpinscher? What is that? It sounds like some kind of

A silly small dog.

A silly small dog.

Austrian pastry, not a dog. 

Next time I’m in the Demel in Vienna, I will ask if I can have an affenpinscher. Mit schlag. 

Sheesh.

To be taken seriously, a dog should at least be bigger than a cat. There is something seriously wrong when the judges could have picked a golden retriever and failed to do so. I am through with Westminster until they come to their senses and pick a golden (or at least a Lab or some other real dog).

Cody (a real dog) Photo by Fred Conrad/NYT

Cody (a real dog)
Photo by Fred Conrad/NYT

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The media and the murderer

By Christopher B. Daly

It’s a busy season in Boston media circles for works about the city’s most notorious gangster, Whitey Bulger.

The Boston Globe has a special page devoted to all things Whitey. Amazon can fill a page with Whitey books. Bulger, who is accused of 19 murders and other crimes, is in prison in Massachusetts awaiting his trial in U.S. District Court in Boston, due to start this spring, but he must be the most written-about gangster since Capone.

Right now, the Globe is throwing its institutional support behind the new hardcover Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt that Brought Him to Justice. It is written by two Globe reporters, Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, with long years of experience covering cops, courts, and criminals.

Next up (due out next week) is a book by two former Globe reporters — my friend and Boston University colleague Dick Lehr and veteran courts reporter Gerard O’Neill (who also teaches part-time at BU). Their book, titled Whitey:  The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss, is expected to be the definitive biography of Bulger, featuring lots of new material about his childhood and his years in the federal prison system. Lehr and O’Neill are old Bulger hands, having written the landmark Black Mass in 2000, the book that grew out of their reporting while on the staff at the Globe. That was the book that first definitively ripped back the curtain and revealed the corrupt relationship between Bulger and his FBI “handler” John Connolly.

Whitey Bulger, courtesy of Boston PD. One of the greatest mugshots in the history of the genre.

Whitey Bulger, courtesy of Boston PD. One of the greatest mugshots in the history of the genre.

For hard-core Whitey fans, today’s Globe also offers a column by Kevin Cullen about Whitey’s views on politics. No surprise: Whitey is a Reagan Democrat, sort of. Here’s the column.

For the sake of comprehensiveness, the Globe also has a review today of the Cullen-Murphy book. The review is written by Sean Flynn, a former reporter at the Boston Herald and Boston magazine who now writes for GQ.

An excerpt from the review:

There was a time, long ago, when the legend of Whitey Bulger seemed nearly Shakespearean. His was the story of two brothers who rose from the Old Harbor housing project to rule the city, Billy its politics and Whitey its rackets. It was the story, too, of that neighborhood, where the greatest sin was disloyalty, and how that sense of allegiance entangled a third son of Old Harbor — FBI special agent John Connolly — who recruited Whitey as an informant, then protected him beyond the bounds of good sense or the law. The saga was often cast by Whitey’s loyalists and enablers in a haze of noir romance.

It was never that simple or that majestic, of course, and history and voluminous testimony have revealed as much. But Whitey is a product of a particular time and place, and he cannot be understood apart from either. Cullen and Murphy know this, and they reveal the complicated man amid the swirls and crosscurrents of Boston’s peculiar past.

Still to come: the movies. In Boston, it’s fun to speculate about who would make the better Whitey — Johnny Depp (pirate)  or Matt Damon (homey).

l to r: Depp, Affleck, Damon, Facinelli

l to r: Depp, Affleck, Damon, Facinelli

If you can’t get enough, here’s a reading list to help you feel more knowledgable about all things Bulger and Boston:

The Brothers Bulger (2006), by Herald political columnist Howie Carr.

–A literary curio: While the Music Lasts (1996), a memoir by Whitey’s brother Billy Bulger, the conservative Democrat who dominated the Massachusetts Senate during the 1980s and 1990s. (Fun fact: Billy’s memoir is “A Richard Todd Book” — one of the tonier imprints in American publishing.)

–There is also a shelf of books written by former Whitey confederates, starting with Brutal (2007), by former Bulger henchman Kevin Weeks and the writer Phyllis Karas (who also teaches at BU.)

–Then there are the first-hand accounts by law enforcement veterans who had a hand in stopping or capturing Bulger. You can start with Most Wanted (2012) by Thomas J. Foley, a former colonel in the Mass. State Police, who kept trying to bust Whitey only to be thwarted by corrupt FBI agents. Foley’s book is co-written (which means in all likelihood, actually written) by John Sedgwick, a real writer.

–Finally, it’s worth putting all this in some kind of historical context, and there are two places to start:

The Rascal King (1992), by Jack Beatty, about the life and times of Boston mayor James Michael Curley, and The Boston Irish: A Political History, (1995) by the late Boston College historian Thomas H. O’Connor.

And, from the fiction shelf, two great novels: The Last Hurrah (1956) by Edwin O’Connor and the the marvelous The Given Day (2008) by novelist Dennis Lehane.

Stop me!

Just remembered: if you want to know how to talk like Whitey, it’s always a good idea to brush up on the noir masterpiece The Friends of Eddie Coyle, (1970) by the late George V. Higgins (who also used to teach at BU!).

Class dismissed!

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The war on drone secrecy (cont.)

By Christopher B. Daly

The use of unmanned drones may be a good thing or a bad thing (or, of course, something more complicated). Because that’s the case, the United States needs to conduct a big, loud debate about them — in hearings, in editorials and blogs, in speeches, in debates, on the airwaves, and online. After that, we need to have some elections that will clarify where the people stand.

None of that can happen, of course, if the whole program is a big secret. That is a point being made by a rising chorus of voices. The NYTimes Public Editor, Margaret Sullivan, is stressing it.

And today, NYT media columnist David Carr joins the crowd.

Carr’s column refers to a recent study by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy. If ever there was an issue involving press, politics and public policy, the drone campaign is it. And the report, by Tara McKelvey, is a great primer on the whole issue and the coverage thereof.

Under the Obama administration, the targeted-killing program has
become the centerpiece of U.S. counterterrorism strategy. The Obama White House
program of targeted killing is unprecedented in its mission and scope; moreover, the
administration’s approach to fighting terrorists is likely to be adopted by presidents in
the future, whether Democratic or Republican. For these reasons, it makes sense to
examine the role of media in the public debate about the program and moreover to see
how journalists have fared in their efforts to cover the story of the targeted-killing
program.

 

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Fox News discovers Latinos

By Christopher B. Daly 

From TNR comes a story about Roger Ailes, the CEO of Fox News, and his newfound concern for the Latino viewer/voter.

“The fact is, we have a lot—Republicans have a lot more opportunity for them,” Ailes says. “If I’m going to risk my life to run over the fence to get into America, I want to win. I think Fox News will articulate that.”

This new policy will require some pivoting by some of Fox’s top stars — notably Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Both of them were waging war on the air against immigrants for years, right up until the last election proved that there are not enough angry old white people in the United States to win national elections for the Republican Party.

Sean Hannity, appearing with Marco Rubio, now accepts a "path to citizenship" for Latinos and other immigrants.

Sean Hannity, appearing with Marco Rubio, now accepts a “path to citizenship” for Latinos and other immigrants.

In a sense, Fox is in the position that the “party papers” of the early Federal period were in. When a new kind of non-partisan paper came along in the 1830s trying to appeal to everyone, the editors of the party papers realized that their partisanship was placing an arbitrary ceiling on the universe of readers they could possibly appeal to. Therein lay the real origins of “neutral” or “objective” news — the desire to reach larger audiences. If Fox limits itself to Republicans, there is no room for growth. (Similarly, if the GOP limits itself to Fox viewers, there is no room for growth.)

Can moderate Latinos save them both?

 

 

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Times’ paywall is paying very well

By Christopher B. Daly

Buried in the business section of today’s New York Times is a story with some very encouraging news about the future of quality journalism. The story concerns the New York Times Company itself. There’s a lot of noise in there about the sales of assets such as About.com. There’s also the usual gloomy news about the continuing declines in print advertising (down 5.6 percent).

But there are also two positive signals in all the details:

1. Digital advertising revenues rose 5.1 percent. That’s the money the Times makes from selling the electronic ads that appear in the online version. They are rising from a small base, to be sure, but they represent the ad dollars of the future.

2. The biggest good news: revenue from circulation grew 16.1 percent. In other words, the Times‘ paywall is paying very well. I would say this story “buried the lead” — because this is the biggest news in a while. The increase in circulation revenue is certainly not coming from a surge in subscriptions to the old-fashioned print version of the paper; nor is it from an upswing in newstand sales. It is coming from people who bump into the Times‘ online “paywall” and decide that it’s worth paying for the Times‘ content online. That may well turn out to be the paper’s salvation: the readers.

Here’s an excerpt from the NYTCo official earnings statement:

Paid subscribers to The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune digital subscription packages, e-readers and replica editions totaled approximately 640,000 as of the end of the fourth quarter of 2012, an increase of approximately 13 percent since the end of the third quarter of 2012.

That’s impressive. Readers in those numbers (plus some more, of course) could carry the paper into the digital future.

Can a restored dividend be far behind?

 

Here’s a chart of the company’s stock performance. NYTCo stock is up today, but it has a long way to go to get back to the glory days of a decade ago.

NYTCo stock

NYTCo stock

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Obama wavering on secrecy

By Christopher B. Daly

Slowly, but perhaps inevitably, President Obama is yielding to public pressure and taking baby steps toward the transparency he promised all along. He has said he will allow the leaders of the House andimgres3 Senate Intelligence Committees to look at the legal memo that purports to justify the administration’s policy of killing Americans overseas under certain conditions using unmanned drones.

Can a leak of the document be far behind?

Even after that happens (as seems equally inevitable), I want to know:

–What authorizes Obama to make this policy on his own?

–What authorizes Obama to pick the targets for assassination?

–What authorizes Obama to hide this policy and dribble it out only when cornered by the people?

He was supposed to be a leader in the campaign for transparency, not a reluctant truant. Oh, well. Sometimes the people have to lead the leaders.

Famous drone target.

Famous drone target.

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How to break into the news business

By Christopher B. Daly

Well, here’s one way:

1. Start off with a career in modeling.

2. Become a Republican.

3. Never work as a reporter/editor/photographer.

4. Join FOX News as a highly paid on-air commentator.

That is the path reportedly being pursued by Scott Brown, according to a story in today’s Boston Globe and elsewhere. Now that Brown, the Republican who lost the 2012 race for U.S. Senate to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, is getting out of politics and becoming a big media star, he don’t need to talk to no stinkin’ reporters:

A Fox spokesman confirmed Brown is in talks to appear on the network, which recently announced it is not renewing contracts with big-name political commentators Sarah Palin and Dick Morris. It was unclear, however, what role Brown might have on the network. Though Brown has told several Republicans that he will have a gig on Fox, the spokesman said the talks are not final.

Brown would not comment to the Globe. When reached Wednesday night, he said, “I am right in the middle of dinner,” and hung up the phone.

All in all, Brown appears to be an example of the power of failing upward. Way to go, Scott.

Unknown

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