Monthly Archives: November 2013

Surveillance state: Cops don’t like GPS tracking either

By Christopher B. Daly 

This is rich.

Today’s Boston Globe has a story  about a contract dispute between Boston’s street cops and the city. The city wants to put GPS tracking devices in all Boston Police cruisers, ostensibly so they can mobilize patrolmen more rapidly in a crisis.

Turns out, the cops don’t want GPS trackers to be used on them. They don’t like it any better than the rest of us do, and they want to bargain with the city to keep GPS devices out of their cruisers.

Great quote from the Globe story:

“No one likes it. Who wants to be followed all over the place?” said one officer who spoke anonymously.

And another one — from the patrolmen union’s lawyer:

“This thing keeps a permanent record of where an officer is all day. If he stops to go to the bathroom, that stop appears on the screen. If he goes a mile over the speed limit, someone can question that. It’s quite an intrusion on people’s lives.”

Exactly. This is exactly why ordinary, law-abiding citizens don’t want to be watched all the time either.

This comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling back in January, in which the court held that it was an invasion of privacy for police agencies in general to slap a GPS tracker on the automobile of a suspect who has not been charged with a crime.

I welcomed that decision, but now the Boston police cruiser case raises a question: why not track the cops? After all, when they are on duty, this is a workplace issue, not a privacy issue. We give them those cruisers and the guns they carry and the power that goes with the badge. For 40 hours a week, while they are exercising that awesome power, and if they are put on notice first, then I would be okay with monitoring the cops. After all, someone has to watch the watchers.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? 



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Preserving video news (before it’s too late)

By Christopher B. Daly

Three cheers for WGBH-Tv in Boston and the Library of Congress, which are teaming up to preserve a significant trove of television news footage from public TV. According to the Boston Globe, the project will also result in digitizing the material and putting it online, where everyone will have access.

In researching my book, Covering America, on the history of journalism in America, I found the most difficult kind of historical material to get hold of was radio and television. In general, broadcasters have done a terrible job of preserving their original news programs (and you can just about forget about transcripts), and they are terribly ephemeral. If something is not done, a big chunk of US history will just be lost.

Thanks to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for under-writing all this.

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Michael Kinsley on politics

By Christopher B. Daly

Thanks to fog-cutter Michael Kinsley, who always manages to write in a way that is fresh, direct, and to-the-point. His latest: a review in the Sunday NYTBR dissecting the reporting, thinking, and writing in “Double Down,” the latest presidential campaign account by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. The review includes this wonderful paragraph, which captures a lot about the perils of “straight” political reporting:

Halperin and Heilemann tell it pretty straight. You cannot guess, from reading the book, whom they voted for. But you can sense their devotion to a higher creed, that of the political journalist. Two provisions of that creed stand out in particular. First, no detail is too trivial to report. Blame Politico, the newspaper about politics and its accompanying Web site (for which I used to work), for this. It has built an empire on the droppings of less-successful publications. Item 2 in the creed is respect for professionalism, however it manifests itself. Political advisers ought to know when and how to lie, cheat and steal for their candidates. That’s their job, and they should do it well. It is the journalist’s job to expose them if she can. And if we all do our jobs well, we don’t need to worry about things like, well, lying, cheating and stealing. 

Thanks, Mike.




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JFK: a roundup of historical commentary

By Christopher B. Daly

A hat-tip to the worthwhile History News Network, an online resource for historians based at George Mason University, for compiling a considerable amount of recent commentary and analysis by historians about John F. Kennedy. The topics range from his presidency to his assassination and elsewhere.

If you like, your should subscribe to HNN. You will learn something every week.  You will also be supporting the fine work of HNN’s sponsor, the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media. 


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Fun with maps: a “catrogram” explains US politics

By Christopher B. Daly 

A hat-tip to The New Republic for this piece about how to visualize our current political alignments. (And a double hat-tip to UMichigan researcher Mark Newman who thought this up.) The key to understanding this view of politics is a device known as a “cartogram” — which is a map that depicts geography according to some criterion other than space. So, if you map the United States based on the density of population, then the big empty spaces don’t register very much.

To dramatize:

Here’s a conventional map showing the United States in terms of counties, with red depicting counties that are majority Republican and blue depicting ones that are majority Democratic. It’s a gorgeous map but very misleading, because it creates the impression that the U.S. is basically a “red” country with some pockets of “blue.” If I were a Republican, this is the kind of map that would encourage me to think about taking “my” country “back.”









But, of course, that’s not the whole story. In fact, the country has a narrow Democratic majority. But how to depict that?

This cartogram is one way:



In the cartogram, units of space are resized to reflect the population of each county and the margin of victory in the last presidential election. This view makes the U.S. look like a bluish/purplish country with some red swirls mixed in. Very different visual impact.

Here is a link to Newman’s software, so you can make your own cartograms!

For a different view of U.S. politics, consider this cartogram by the NYTimes. It makes me want to move to North Dakota or Wyoming — almost.



This map shows each state re-sized in proportion to the relative influence of the individual voters who live there. The numbers indicate the total delegates to the Electoral College from each state, and how many eligible voters a single delegate from each state represents.

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Goodwin on muckrakers: an update

A quick update to yesterday’s post about Doris Kearns Goodwin’s new book:

Here is today’s review in the NYTimes, which gave it a respectful endorsement (and helpfully points out that the book is a monster at more than 900 pages!).



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Doris Kearns Goodwin turns to journalism history

By Christopher B. Daly 

In her newest book, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin takes a turn toward the history of journalism. Actually, she is working at the intersection of Presidential History and Journalism History in The Bully Pulpit: TR, Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism. In any case, I am happy to welcome her to the ranks of journalism 9781416547860_custom-cbfa6372bc5fbe63f5a575b089d8f201e92d1c0b-s2-c85historians, and I am always glad to see any professional historian from another specialty stray into journalism’s past.

I am also intrigued by her discovery of a “golden age” in the journalism at the turn of the last century. It was certainly a time of great achievement, thanks to the “Muckrakers” who investigated so much wrong-doing, corruption, and squalor. I look forward to reading the book and seeing why she considers that period so wonderful. (Personally, I would nominate the period from about 1968-74: rise of rock journalism/ heyday of “new journalism”/ Pentagon Papers / Watergate. Your nomination?)

Until then, here’s an interview Goodwin did recently with NPR.

One stunning excerpt: Goodwin recounts that the great muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens decided to examine the performance of the U.S. government. So, Steffens wrote to the head of the outfit — none other than President Theodore Roosevelt.

“Mr. President, I want to investigate corruption in the federal government.”

According to Goodwin, TR’s reply was quite a stunner. He gave Steffens a calling card that he could use in his reporting and present to government officials as needed, which read, in part:

“Please tell Mr. Lincoln Steffens anything whatever about the running of the government that you know (not incompatible with the public interest) and provided only that you tell him the truth.”

Now, that‘s the way to treat a reporter! Just tell the truth.


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David Carr on the media: Content for sale

By Christopher B. Daly 

In his latest weekly column, David Carr identifies a growing trend: the paid creation of “content” (formerly known as stories, pieces, etc.) for clients who want to “tell a story” that also happens to advance their commercial interests. He highlights a leader in this new mutation, a website called Contently, which functions as a kind of dating service for journalists and companies. If you visit

Poe (minus the sunglasses)

Poe (minus the sunglasses)

the homepage, which features a full-screen background image of Edgar Allan Poe in aviator sunglasses, you are invited to proceed through one of two portals: “Journalist” or “Company.” In the “manifesto,” the founders explain their win-win proposition:

Those who tell and promote the best stories—in the best ways—will increase in reputation and trust, fans and influence. Journalists will build their personal brands. Businesses will make a difference. Media companies will thrive.

In writing about this phenomenon, Carr shrewdly sidesteps a category problem: what is this kind of material, exactly?

It’s not journalism, that’s for sure. It’s not journalism because it is not produced by independent people who are working for the good of their audience. They are hired guns working for the good of whoever is paying them.

It’s not P.R., exactly, either, because it appears in disguise — sporting a trenchcoat and a fedora borrowed (or stolen, if you will) from journalism. The reason to look and feel like journalism, of course, is to try to cadge some of journalism’s credibility, to bolster the sales pitch buried in these messages. I suppose it is the inevitable result of an over-supply of writers and the ceaseless demand for material that can fool people into buying stuff.

I am inclined to say “Judge not” when anybody can find a way to get a paycheck into a writer’s hands, but I have to say that I don’t have a good feeling about how this story ends.





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JFK shooting: TV news grows up fast

By Christopher B. Daly 

With the approach of the 50th anniversary of that fateful day in Dallas, I thought it might be worth re-visiting my account of the assassination. Here is an excerpt from Covering America that looks at the media response to the shooting:

During the Kennedy presidency, television news became more powerful than ever. In the years since the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, television executives had been atoning by lavishing resources on their news divisions. Television sets were in the vast majority of homes by 1960, and the audience for the TV networks dwarfed that of any newspaper and even the readership of the entire Time-Life empire. The media president, Jack Kennedy, also introduced live television coverage of presidential news conferences and proceeded to thrive in the new forum. Television carried more news than ever, to more people.

On November 22, 1963, television was the medium by which many Americans first got the news about the shooting. There it was, right on TV. The president and his wife were in a motorcade with Governor John Connally and his wife. Shots rang out, and the president was rushed to the hospital. No word on the shooter’s identity. It may not have been apparent to viewers, but television executives were scrambling to keep up. The networks did not have the equipment and staff needed to “go live” and put news on the air as it was unfolding. Just off camera it was pandemonium, as executives met to decide how to cover a presidential shooting in the new medium. Eventually they reached a consensus: they would stay with the story, without interruptions and without ads, for the duration. So it was that for three or four days the American people did something they had never done before: they stayed home and attended a funeral via television. If they were watching CBS, they saw Walter Cronkite dab at his eye when he announced the bulletin confirming Kennedy’s death. No matter what network they watched, viewers saw Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald; they saw the flag-draped caisson and the riderless horse; and they saw the salute given by the president’s young son. For the first time (and almost the last, as it happened), nearly the entire country had nearly the same experience at the same time.

CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite struggles to keep his composure on-camera as he announces the news of the death of President John F. Kennedy live on the air on November 22, 1963.     —Getty Images.

CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite struggles to keep his composure on-camera as he announces the news of the death of President
John F. Kennedy live on the air on November 22, 1963.
—Getty Images.








In the New York Times, on Monday, November 25, 1963, the front page featured a banner headline across the entire page, stacked three decks deep:




The funeral was planned for later that day. Below the big headline was a photo (from the AP) of Jackie Kennedy and Caroline kneeling next to the president’s flag-draped casket. Underneath was a little single-column story headlined:



Then, this ominous subhead:

Retains Kennedy’s Policy

of Aiding War on Reds


[To read my book, order Covering America from Amazon.]


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Long live the obit!

By Christopher B. Daly 

An often under-appreciated journalistic form is the humble obituary, known as the obit. The best kind of obit, when well done, is a kind of snap profile. The subject of the ideal profile is a person you did not know when alive but should have — or whom you now wish you had known before it was too late.

These are not to be confused with paid death notices, which are horribly formulaic. (I know, obits can be formulaic too, but I am not talking about those here.)  A true obituary, by definition, is a story about a dead person written by a journalist. The best ones convey the news about the timing and manner of death, then go on to tell a story about an interesting life.

I wish to celebrate two obits that appear by coincidence today.

In the Boston Globe, Bryan Marquard salutes the late Sam McCracken — a obit-big“character” of the first order. I did not know McCracken despite his many years at Boston University, but now I wish I had.


In the New York Times, the redoubtable Robert D. McFadden opens a world — that of the favored few who not only lived in the apartments at Carnegie Hall SHERMAN1-obit-articleLargebut paid almost no rent for the privilege. The occasion is the recent death of another “character,” Editta (cq) Sherman, who made it to age 101.


Either of these obits could have stood on its own as a feature story in either paper. These sorts of efforts renew my faith in the obit, which is under pressure from the hollowing out of newspaper staffs and from the relentless pressure of the Internet. They remind me why we continue to teach our students in journalism schools how to write obits — and why they should want to.

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