Monthly Archives: January 2014

Death penalty for Marathon bomber: A reluctant “NO”

By Christopher B. Daly 

[Update, 2.4.14: A new study shows a surge in exonerations.]

I was opposed to the death penalty last April 14, the day before two immigrant brothers allegedly set off two homemade bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, causing death, grievous wounds, maiming,and mayhem. It was a despicable act, and it made me furious (not terrified, by the way).

In the heat of the moment, I wanted to find the perpetrators and punish them. I thought maybe they should be put into stocks on Boston Common and subject to whatever vengeance the public wanted to wreak. I think they would not have lasted long.

The Boston case – in which Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Thursday that federal prosecutors would seek the death penalty – illustrates exactly why we have laws. It strikes me that we make these laws as much for ourselves as we do for the criminals. When we are not furious, we have the chance to deliberate and to make wise laws that we agree to abide by even when all hell is breaking loose.

Before the Marathon Bombing, I thought the death penalty was a bad idea, for several reasons. It has become so rare in the United States — especially in Massachusetts, where the first execution took place in 1630 and the last execution took place in 1947 — that it could be seen as so “unusual” that it is unconstitutional on those grounds alone.

What I find even more compelling is the experience of the Innocence Project at the Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University and similar efforts carried out by journalists and journalism students. For lots of reasons — racism, inadequate public defenders, bogus confessions, and more — there are a horrifying number of people in America who have been placed on Death Row only to be exonerated before execution. (As of today, the Innocence Project tallies 312 cases of exoneration of prisoners slated to be put to death.) And of course, some innocent people have certainly been wrongfully killed by the state — which is to say, by all of us, through our laws and our taxes.

Ultimately, the problem is this: the death penalty is an irreversible climax to an imperfect system of justice. If we could be absolutely sure that our courts never made a mistake, then the death penalty might be worth considering. But the fact is that we know that our courts (and our cops and our prosecutors) sometime make mistakes. So, it is illogical and immoral to cap off such a system with a penalty that has no remedy.

For these reasons, as someone who was born in Boston and works here I am pleased that the Massachusetts Legislature has repeatedly refused to reinstate the death penalty. The last time the issue came up for a vote, in 2001, the Legislature rejected it by a vote of 94-60. Even in the aftermath of the Marathon Bombing, a large majority of Bostonians said they opposed capital punishment. And I am glad that in a time of peaceful deliberation, the people of Massachusetts were able to listen to the angels of our better nature and put in place restraints on ourselves.

In the Marathon bombing, the would-be terrorists used death as the instrument of their purpose. Let us not sink to their level.

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Boston Globe owner begins making his moves

By Christopher B. Daly 

It’s no great surprise that John Henry, the wealthy former investor who bought the Boston Globe late last October for less than $70 million, has named a new publisher: himself. This is a step that has many precedents in the history of American journalism. And it makes sense: why spend the money to buy a whole newspaper if you don’t plan to run it?

The more interesting development announced by the Globe is that the paper will have a new CEO: veteran ad man Mike Sheehan. A longtime executive with the Boston advertising powerhouse Hill Holliday, Sheehan now takes on the responsibility for making enough money to rebuild the Globe’s reporting strength to the point where it can fulfill its goal of being a robust regional news organization.

Personally, I wish them all the luck. Get cracking, do good work, and start hiring more journalists.

Here's the Globe's caption on this double portrait: John Henry (left) and Mike Sheehan hope to boost ad revenue at the Globe.

Here’s the Globe’s caption on this double portrait: John Henry (left) and Mike Sheehan hope to boost ad revenue at the Globe.

 

 

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Egypt rounds up journalists

By Christopher B. Daly

[see update below]

Like almost every regime that wants to cling to power, the government in Egypt has decided to attack the news media. Prosecutors announced that they were charging 20 journalists who work for Al Jazeera with consipring with terrorists. Their crime: contacting enemies of the regime as sources and reporting their views. They are also being charged with broadcasting false images of “a civil war that raises alarms about the state’s collpase.” Translation: they called it the way they saw it.

According to the Times:

The charges are the latest turn in a widening clampdown on public dissent by the military-backed government . . .

This is obviously a shameful attempt to intimidate the entire news media, and it should be denounced in the strongest terms by the United States. Here’s what we got, in the daily briefing from the U.S. State Department:

The State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said Egypt should reconsider the prosecution. “The government’s targeting of journalists and others on spurious claims is wrong and demonstrates an egregious disregard for the protection of basic rights and freedoms,” she said.

Better than nothing.

UPDATE:

Apparently, the regime in Egypt is having second thoughts — not about rounding up their own journalists, but about the unintended consequences of the crackdown on the rest of the world’s press. Their real goal seems to be to insulate their own people from exposure to the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence the roundup of Al Jazeera journalists who have Brotherhood sources.

But they seem unprepared for the fallout — which is a natural reluctance of any self-respecting journalist to stick around in Egypt with the threat of arbitrary arrest hanging over them. Any reporter covering Egypt needs to have and use Brotherhood sources. But if that means you can be accused of conspiring with terrorists, it might be time to leave Egypt for a while.

In a statement on Thursday, the State Information Service said Egypt welcomed foreign correspondents to cover even “constructive criticism” of the government, in accordance with its commitments to democracy, freedom of expression and transparent elections.

Alluding to journalists’ fears about being charged for interviewing members of the Brotherhood, the statement said that “mere contact” with any “accused criminal” is not a crime under Egyptian law.

The statement, however, contained caveats. It said that Egyptian law does not protect freedom of “thought and opinion” if it develops into action that violates Egyptian laws, like “crimes that threaten the country’s national security.”

The statement also said that contact with an “accused criminal” may be a punishable offense “if this contact is a sort of assisting or inciting.”

Hmmm… I’d say it might be time to go visit some other hotspot for a while.

 

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Surveillance state: NSA chief sees threats everywhere

By Christopher B. Daly 

In what universe does it make sense that DNI James Clapper still has his job?

He should have been charged with contempt of Congress for lying under oath and sacked by his boss, President Obama. Instead, there he was yesterday testifying to Congress.

He used the platform Congress gave him to denounce Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who spilled the beans on the illegal and questionable programs and tactics run by imgres3our intelligence agencies. Of course, he blamed Snowden for serious but vague damage done to America. On examination, what he really means is that Snowden made life difficult for our spy agencies. Whether he caused any other kind of damage is unclear. (transcript, anyone?)

To quote the Times:

Mr. Clapper did not give specific examples to bolster his assessment about the damage Mr. Snowden had done. He also did not say whom he believed Mr. Snowden’s accomplices to be.

But he wasn’t finished. Turns out, he sees “threats” everywhere. There are bogeymen all over Asia, the Mideast and Africa. Everywhere he looks, he sees nukes, bio-chem weapons, conspiracies, and an ever-mutating array of threats. Most of these threats are either hypothetical, localized in some faraway place, or intramural disputes between people who are no friends of ours. At the risk of sounding like some kind of neo-isolationist (which I am not), I have to observe that almost none of the threats hinted at by Clapper involve real, credible, imminent attacks on the territory of the United States.

But that’s not the standard for our military-intelligence complex. There, the issue is whether someone presents a threat (of any kind) to something known as “American interests” — a term that has no specific definition. It is so vague and all-encompassing that it could mean almost anything — a kidnapping threat against a U.S. citizen anywhere in the world, for example, or an apolitical piracy operation that menaces U.S. shipping anywhere in the world.

The fact is, not every problem in the world is an American problem, and not every problem in the world has an American solution. But if you are seeking to justify the existence of your agency and get more money for your budget, it behooves you to play up all these “threats.”

Thanks to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, who has emerged as the great skeptic in Congress. (He’s the one Clapper lied to, face to face, last year.) At this week’s hearing, Wyden

said that the dealings between spy agencies and their congressional overseers were crippled by a “culture of misinformation.”

Speaking of executive actions, this is one problem Obama could solve today, without needing an act of Congress. Fire Clapper.

 

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Filed under Journalism, leaks, media, Politics, President Obama, surveillance

NYTimes: Truth in labeling?

By Christopher B. Daly

When I was reading the NYTimes front page this morning, I started reading the paper’s Pg. 1 story about Pete Seeger. As I read, I had a growing sense that something was bugging me. The piece carried the byline of Jon Pareles, the paper’s longtime music critic, which I thought was appropriate. But the piece kept bugging me, until I realized what the problem was: I was not reading the paper’s obituary (also written by Pareles). Instead, I was reading something more like a critical appraisal of Pete’s musical career. Here’s part of it:

That put him at the center of the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, in all its idealism, earnestness and contradictions. Collectors found songs that had archetypal resonance, sung in unpretty voices and played with regional quirks, and transcribed them to be learned from sheet music. The folk revival prized authenticity — the work song recorded in prison, the fiddle tune recorded on a back porch — and then diluted it as the making of amateur collegiate strum-alongs.

That’s fine, of course, (although a bit tart for a story about his death) but it should have been labeled as such. There should have been some kind of banner or emblem that says AN APPRECIATION or CRITICISM or something like that which would signal that this is not a factual news story. (Online, the Pg. 1 piece carries the slug MUSIC: AN APPRAISAL, which is just what it needed.)

Inside the paper was Pete’s obit, which had a classical opening:

Pete Seeger, the singer, folk-song collector and songwriter who spearheaded an American folk revival and spent a long career championing folk music as both a vital heritage and a catalyst for social change, died on Monday in Manhattan. He was 94.

His death, at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, was confirmed by his grandson Kitama Cahill Jackson.

Mr. Seeger’s career carried him from singing at labor rallies to the Top 10, from college auditoriums to folk festivals, and from a conviction for contempt of Congress (after defying the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s) to performing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at an inaugural concert for Barack Obama.

Recently, I had a similar experience with the Times’ coverage. After Obama gave his “big speech” about the NSA scandal back on Jan 17, the Times ran a page 1 story the next day. Actually, the paper ran two stories: one a straightforward factual account of the president’s speech by Mark Landler and Charlie Savage headlined “Obama Outlines Calibrated Curbs on Phone Spying.” Then, there was another story, also on Pg. 1, written by David Sander and Claire Cain Miller headlined “In Keeping Grip on Data Pipeline, Obama Does Little to Reassure Industry.” My problem was that the second story was clearly more analytical, and the authors drew several important conclusions on their own authority — not by quoting experts but by being experts.

Again, that’s fine. But it should be labeled ANALYSIS.

And here’s the kicker. I was staying in a hotel that weekend, and on Sunday I could only get hold of the International New York Times. There were the Saturday stories, recycled a day late, and when I looked at the Sanger and Miller piece, it carried a label that said ANALYSIS.

 

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So long, Pete, it’s been good to know ya!

imgres By Christopher B. Daly

Farewell to a great American. His life was so big and not just because he lived to age 94. He had careers multiple careers, and regular people would be proud to had any one of them.

As a young man, he wanted to be a journalist (about which more later), but he had to settle for music. Oh, well.

After dropping out of Harvard, he helped Alan Lomax to capture and document the roots of American music, including “race” and “hillbilly” music.

He joined the show “Back Where I Come From” and performed with an integrated cast at the White House.

He served in the military during World War II on Saipan in the Pacific.

He founded two terrific folk music groups: The Almanac Singers and The Weavers, which had a chart-topping hit with Leadbelly’s “Goodnight, Irene” in 1950.

He was blacklisted as a suspected communist.

Pete's banjo

Pete’s banjo

 

He popularized the five-string banjo.

 

He wrote “If I Had a Hammer,” “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Where Have all the Flowers Gone” and a bunch of other songs that are already classics. He also helped to revive “We Shall Overcome.”

He served as a bridge from Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and a host of others.

He spearheaded the drive to clean up the Hudson River.

All the way, he kept on raising hell and fighting the good fight.

As I said, any one of those would serve as a claim to fame.

Back to journalism:

One of my favorite songs performed by Pete was “Newspapermen Meet Such Interesting People.”

Here’s a version:

 

Pete sang it, but he didn’t write it. It was written by an actual newspaperman, Vern Patlow. Here’s a version on which Patlow sings:

IN case you missed any, here are the lyrics:

Oh, newspapermen meet such interesting people!
He knows the low-down (now it can be told).
I’ll tell you quite reliably off the record
About some charming people I have known,
For I meet politicians, and grafters by the score,
Killers plain and fancy, it’s really quite a bore.
Oh, newspapermen meet such interesting people!
He wallows in corruption, crime, and gore.

Ting-a-ling-a-ling, city desk;
Hold the press, Hold the press;
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
It’s a mess, meets the test.
Oh, newspapermen meet such interesting people!
It’s wonderful to represent the press.

Now, you remember Mrs. Sadie Smuggery.
She needed money for a new fur coat.
To get insurance, she employed skullduggery.
She up and cut her husband’s only throat.
She chopped him into fragments, she stuffed him in a trunk.
She shipped it all back yonder to her uncle in Podunk.
Now, newspapermen meet such interesting people!
It must have startled poor old Sadie’s unc.

Ting-a-ling-a-ling, city desk;
Hold the press, Hold the press;
Extra! Extra! Read all about it!
It’s a mess, meets the test.
Oh, a newspaperman meets such interesting people!
It’s wonderful to represent the press.

Now, newspapermen meet such interesting people!
I’ve met the gal with million-dollar knees.
Oh, so the guy who sat five years upon a steeple;
Just where the point was I could never see.
Yes, I’ve met Capone and Hoover, and lots of other fakes.
I’ve even met a genius who swallows rattlesnakes.
Oh, a newspaperman meets such interesting people!
The richest girl who could not bake a cake.

Ting-a-ling
Ting-a-ling
Ting-a-ling

Now, newspapermen are such interesting people!
They used to work like hell just for romance,
But finally, the movies notwithstanding,
They all got tired of patches on their pants.
They organized a union to get a living wage.
They joined with other actors upon a living stage.
Now newspapermen are such interesting people,
When they know they’ve got a people’s fight to wage.

Ting-a-ling-a-ling, Newspaper Guild,
got a free new world to build;
Meet the people, that’s a thrill,
All together fits the bill.
Now, newspapermen are such interesting people!
It’s wonderful to represent the Guild.

Oh, publishers are such interesting people!
Their policy’s an acrobatic thing.
They claim they represent the common people.
It’s funny Wall Street never has complained.
But the publishers have worries, for publishers must go
To working folks for readers, and big shots for their dough.
Now, are publishers are such interesting people!
It could be press-titution, I don’t know.

Ting-a-ling-a-ling, circulation.
Ting-a-ling-a-ling, advertising
Get those readers, get that payoff
What a headache, what a mess.
Oh, publishers are such interesting people!
Let’s give three cheers for freedom of the press.

Thanks a lot, Pete!

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Abolish the NCAA, junior high edition

By Christopher B. Daly

Now it appears that the NCAA is not content to corrupt American colleges and universities. The imagesgargantuan semi-professional sports monopoly is now reaching not only into high schools but as far down the age ladder as junior high.

Today’s NYTimes has a page 1 enterprise story about the growing tentacles of NCAA coaches engaging in arms race to lock in young athletes at lower and lower ages. A key passage:

The heated race to recruit ever younger players has drastically accelerated over the last five years, according to the coaches involved. It is generally traced back to the professionalization of college and youth sports, a shift that has transformed soccer and other recreational sports from after-school activities into regimens requiring strength coaches and managers.

The practice has attracted little public notice, except when it has occasionally happened in football and in basketball. But a review of recruiting data and interviews with coaches indicate that it is actually occurring much more frequently in sports that never make a dime for their colleges.

Early scouting has also become more prevalent in women’s sports than men’s, in part because girls mature sooner than boys. But coaches say it is also an unintended consequence of Title IX, the federal law that requires equal spending on men’s and women’s sports. Colleges have sharply increased the number of women’s sports scholarships they offer, leading to a growing number of coaches chasing talent pools that have not expanded as quickly. In soccer, for instance, there are 322 women’s soccer teams in the highest division, up from 82 in 1990. There are now 204 men’s soccer teams.

I’m not sure this was what anyone had in mind when Title IX was passed in 1972 to put women’s and girls’ sports on an equal footing with male sports. Why can’t we just let kids run around and get some exercise? Sheesh. 

 

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