Monthly Archives: October 2013

Errol Morris on the Zapruder film of JFK’s shooting

By Christopher B. Daly 

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, there is some remarkable work being done by journalists and historians around this central but still perplexing event. Here is an article that brings together the journalist Ron Rosenbaum and the documentary filmmaker Errol Morris in a discussion of the famous Zapruder film — the DIY film of the exact moment at which President Kennedy was shot. There is a fascinating story behind a single frame of Abraham Zapruder’s home movie. Rosenbaum and Morris also discuss many of the leading works about the assassination, from conspiracy theories to debunking efforts. 

What is most amazing to me is that even now, there is no definitive explanation of the assassination — not for the physics of the shooting, not for the motives of assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, not for the roles that others may have played. In other words, the central public event of my childhood might or might not have occurred in the way it seemed to, and the grown-ups have yet to tell a convincing story.

Too sad.



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Keller v. Greenwald debate: Reporting v. Advocacy

By Christopher B. Daly

Bill Keller, former executive editor of The New York Times and keeper of the flame of traditional reporting, has squared off with Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who disclosed the Snowden leaks and an avatar of advocacy, in a debate over the meaning and future of journalism. Their debate is well worth reading and contemplating. 

Here’s my take: they are actually talking past each other. Each participant represents a different definition of journalism and cannot fathom the other’s values. As I argue in my book, Covering America, they come from competing visions of the essence of journalism, each of which has a long record.

Keller stands squarely for the tradition of responsible, dispassionate, nonpartisan, factual reporting. This was articulated forcefully by Adolph Ochs, the great-grandfather of the current Times publisher, when he bought the Times in 1896. Keller seems to believe that this tradition is the only legitimate one and that all others represent a deformation or corruption of “real” journalism.

Greenwald stands squarely for the tradition of journalism that prizes journalism for its ability to change the world. This is the polemical, analytical, interpretive form of journalism that considers advocacy the essence of journalism. Practitioners like Greenwald often look down on the reporting tradition as a weak, hypocritical, trouble-avoiding compromise.

It may come as a surprise that the advocacy tradition is actually older (much older) than the reporting tradition. In America, the first newspaper launched in 1704, and for more than a century after that, most journalism in America was a fact-free zone of argument and advocacy carried out by the likes of Sam Adams and Tom Paine.

The first full-time reporter in America (the obscure figure George Wisner of the New York Sun– pgs 61-62 in Covering America) wasn’t hired until 1833, and it took decades to establish the idea that the proper contents of a newspaper were value-free “facts” gathered by non-partisan professionals.

Personally, I don’t think one tradition is inherently more virtuous or more valuable than the other. I admire the best in both worlds.




Filed under blogging, history, Journalism, journalism history, media, New York Times, Politics

Norman Mailer on JFK

In the next month, much will be said and written about John F. Kennedy on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of his assassination. To prepare for this season of remembrance, here is a good place to start: the landmark essay/profile that ran in Esquire magazine in November 1960. Written by the novelist/playwright/journalist Norman Mailer, it was titled “Superman Comes to the Supermarket” and it remains must-reading.

A hat tip to Esquire for posting the whole thing on its site.

[Hint: if you hit the “print” button on the Esquire page, you can get the whole piece in one big file, minus most of the ads. But then again, if you are not being bombarded about sex and whiskey, are you really getting the full Esquire experience?]


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Who owns the Boston Globe? John Henry does.

By Christopher B. Daly 

No surprise: the deal announced last summer has finally closed. The NYT Co. has sold the Boston Globe (and a bundle of other New England news properties) to the wealthy investor John Henry. The price was $70 million, or 6.3% of the $1.1 billion that the New York Times paid for the Globe 20 years ago.

Henry, who made a fortune in commodity trading, already owns several important sports ventures —

imgresnotably the hometown MLB franchise, the Boston Red Sox. (How the Globe sports department will cover the Sox remains a touchy, unresolved issue that will not go away.)

Henry also owns the Liverpool Football Club, which is ranked third in the English Premier League of the sport we commonly call soccer. Here’s a page of links to Henry-related stories from the British newspaperGooglepluscrest The Guardian. Here’s the comparable page from the Liverpool Echo, consisting mainly of sports stories that say little about Henry.

The reason that I am searching British media for information about Henry is that he is rarely written about here. Although he has been one of the principal owners of the Boston Red Sox for years now, he is still pretty much of an enigma. He shows up in photos at the occasional charity or celebrity event, and his courtship and marriage of Linda Pizzutti (who hails from my hometown — Medford, Mass.) in 2009 produced a portfolio of rather icky photos.

Boston magazine has attempted to cover Henry, and I hope they continue to do so.

The question that awaits an answer is: how will the Globe cover its new owner? This is an inherently awkward (and possibly impossible) assignment for any news organization, since readers will always have to wonder whether any punches were pulled. To report fully and write honestly about the person who signs your paycheck is hard enough; to convince people that you are really telling the whole story means somehow overcoming the apparent conflict of interest involved. It will be a test of the Globe’s independence and its credibility as a journalistic enterprise if it even attempts to cover the new owner.

As for Henry, much remains to be seen. Here are some questions I have:

Will he be an engaged owner?

Will he keep the valuable Brian McGrory as top editor?

Will he endorse political candidates?

Will he stand by the paper’s metered pay system for online access?

Will he order up expanded coverage of English soccer?

Will he tolerate critical coverage of the Red Sox?

Will he sell the land and buildings at Morrissey Boulevard?

Will he sell the printing presses and trucks and take the Globe into a post-print future?

In this photo, what time is it? After sundown, or pre-dawn?

In this photo, what time is it? After sundown, or pre-dawn?

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Filed under business, Journalism, journalism history, New York Times, Red Sox, Uncategorized

To all student journalists: Stay Safe!

By Christopher B. Daly 

Are you a student journalist? Are you being asked to get out of the classroom and “learn by doing” through street reporting?

Are you a journalism professor? Do you send your students out to cover real events?

If so, you should know about a program we are developing in the Journalism Department at Boston University called “Stay Safe.”

Screen Shot 2013-09-20 at 11.01.42 AM








Here’s an introduction, based on a panel discussion we held in September for more than 100 students.

The idea is simple: When the April 2013 Boston Marathon turned in an instant from a feel-good feature story into a violent tragedy, many of us on the Journalism faculty realized that we need to do a better job to train our students in basic safety techniques. Working with veteran correspondents from our own faculty, as well as front-line professional reporters and photographers, we are trying to distill the hard-won experience of covering wars, riots, fires, blizzards, and other forms of mayhem into a set of practical guidelines. Before our students venture out again, we want to make sure they go out there equipped with the “best practices” we can share with them.

Have a look at the video. Still to come: a permanent space on the BU Journalism website with guidelines, training videos, links, and a display of recommended gear for all student journalists.

If you have suggestions, please leave them in the comments here, or email Chris Daly:

Thanks. . .  and stay safe!

Boston University journalism student Kiva Liu, working near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, moments before two bombs exploded.

Boston University journalism student Kiva Liu, working near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, moments before two bombs exploded. She survived.

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Revealed: Justice Scalia’s news diet. (No NYT allowed!)

Here is an excerpt from a recent interview in New York magazine with Justice Antonin Scalia, in which he discusses his news consumption habits with interviewer Jennifer Senior.

What’s your media diet? Where do you get your news?
Well, we get newspapers in the morning.

“We” meaning the justices?

No! Maureen and I.

Oh, you and your wife …

I usually skim them. We just get The Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times. We used to get the Washington Post, but it just … went too far for me. I couldn’t handle it anymore.

What tipped you over the edge?

It was the treatment of almost any conservative issue. It was slanted and often nasty. And, you know, why should I get upset every morning? I don’t think I’m the only one. I think they lost subscriptions partly because they became so shrilly, shrilly liberal.

So no New York Times, either?

No New York Times, no Post.

And do you look at anything online?

I get most of my news, probably, driving back and forth to work, on the radio.

Not NPR? 

Sometimes NPR. But not usually.

Talk guys?

Talk guys, usually.

Do you have a favorite?

You know who my favorite is? My good friend Bill Bennett. He’s off the air by the time I’m driving in, but I listen to him sometimes when I’m shaving. He has a wonderful talk show. It’s very thoughtful. He has good callers. I think they keep off stupid people.

That’s what producers get paid for.

That’s what’s wrong with those talk shows.

Let’s talk about the state of our politics for a moment. . . 


I don’t know about you, but I cannot believe that a Supreme Court justice — any Supreme Court justice — can get by without reading the Times. For Scalia not to know what just a single Times reporter, Charlie Savage, is reporting is either not true or it is not professional. If we take him at his word, Scalia confines himself to

(1) a Murdoch paper,

(2) a paper that may be the worst in the country (the Washington Times, owned by a crazy Korean religious cult figure), and

(3) a radio talk show run by his friend Bill Bennett.

Talk about living in a bubble. Sheesh.

An embarassment Photo by Platon

Antonin Scalia: An embarrassment
Photo by Platon

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Filed under Journalism, media, New York Times, Supreme Court

A history of journalism in two minutes?

By Christopher B. Daly

That’s what the new film “The Fifth Estate” promises in its opening sequence. According to a story in the NYTimes, a specialty production company in Venice, Calif., known as Prologue, has done just that. Since it takes me 15 weeks, lecturing twice a week for 80 minutes at a pop (or, about 2,400 minutes a semester) and I don’t get through all my material, I guess my hat’s off to them.

Can’t wait to see “The Fifth Estate,” which is a dramatization of the story of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. I better not be at the popcorn stand or in the bathroom when the movie starts, or I could miss the whole history of journalism.

A still from the opening sequence of "The Fifth Estate"

A still from the opening sequence of “The Fifth Estate”

If you’ve seen it, please leave a comment and let us all know what you thought.

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False equivalence in news coverage

Here is a link to a good diagnosis of what’s wrong with a lot of news coverage of the U.S. government shutdown. The default position is “a pox on both your houses.” But what if one house is to blame?

Here’s an update from TPM.

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Govt Shutdown shuts down history research

By Christopher B. Daly

Among the unfortunate effects of shutting down the U.S. government is the impact on the “non-essential” workers who run the National Archives, the presidential libraries, the Library of Congress, and other repositories of our national memory. That, in turn, means that a lot of historians, history grad students, writers, and others are sidelined until this blows over.

Even the incomparable Library of Congress digital collections are off-limits. So, a nation that is busy doing a dumb thing is going to start getting dumber.

Screen Shot 2013-10-02 at 12.18.56 PMHere is an article from History News Network detailing some of the disruptions.

And for journalists as well as historians, here’s another downside: the normally glacial processing of Freedom of Information requests has now ground to a halt. No more FOIA disclosures until Congress get back to funding the government.



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