Newton North High School: Every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in

May 25th, 2008 → 12:23 pm @

This Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine features, “What are they doing to my high school?”*, a story I wrote about my alma mater, Newton North, which is currently in the process of being ripped down in favor of a brand-spanking new $200 million facility…which means the new building will actually cost more than the Red Sox’s annual payroll.

For those of you worried that the nuances of the article will be over your head if, for instance, you’re unfamiliar with the social topography of North’s “house” system circa the late 1980s, don’t fret – the story includes this handy cheat sheet:

“If The “Breakfast Club” had been set at North, Ally Sheedy would have hung out in Bacon, Molly Ringwald in Riley, Emilio Estevez in Adams, and Anthony Michael Hall in Beals. Despite the mushes’ often violent dislike of the punkers, Judd Nelson could have hung out in either Palmer or Bacon, drugs being, of course, the great equalizer.”

Ah, yes…the joys of pre-“Home Alone” John Hughes movies.

* Warning: the print edition includes a picture of me on prom night.

Post Categories: Boston Globe & John Hughes & mushes & Newton North High School

Times story shows, yet again, that the national media should stop ripping off Walter Robinson

February 25th, 2008 → 10:17 am @

Some of you may have heard that the New York Times recently ran a piece about John McCain about how his, um, close relationship with Vicki Iseman, a female lobbyist, worried his 2000 campaign staff and raised questions about his judgment.

It was an odd little number for a whole mess of reasons, including (protestations to the contrary) that one of the main reasons the story ended up in the paper when it did was because Gabe Sherman of the New Republic was about to file his piece detailing the pissing matches concerning when (or whether) the Times’ many thousands of words would ultimately run.

Since then, there’s been a general consensus that without the implications/allegations of an affair with Iseman, it would have been a decent piece. That view is neatly summarized by Clark Hoyt, the Times’s public editor: “The pity of it is that, without the sex, The Times was on to a good story. McCain…recast himself as a crusader against special interests and the corrupting influence of money in politics. Yet he has continued to maintain complex relationships with lobbyists like Iseman…”*

Clark does acknowledge that much of this story has been written before, and at points, the Times made unspecific references to previous reporting.

From what I can tell, almost all of it had been previously written about, and the vast majority of that writing was done by Pulitzer winner Walter Robinson, current Northeastern U J-school professor/former investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, that little daily up in New England that the NYT Co. owns. A couple of the big differences between the pieces are that Robinson’s stories weren’t done with a team of other reporters and researchers; he didn’t get in trouble by invoking sex; and his piece didn’t get all of this attention.
To wit:

Boston Globe, “McCain Pressed FCC in Case Involving Major Contributor,” January 5, 2000: “McCain’s close ties to Paxson were abundantly clear on the key dates surrounding the FCC decision. The day before he sent he Dec. 10 letter, McCain used Paxson’s het for a trip from New York to Florida. The day after the letter, he took the company jet from Florida to Washington.

New York Times, “For McCain, Self Confidence on Ethics Poses its Own Risks,” February 21, 2008: “Like other lawmakers, [Mr. McCain] often flew on the corporate jets of business executives seeking his support, including the media moguls Rupert Murdoch, Michael R. Bloomberg, and Lowell W. Paxson.”

Globe: “It is a paradox that underlies McCain’s quest for the presidency. As he savages special interest from almost every podium, those interests, ever pragmatic, have lavished attention and donations on the powerful chairman of a committee that has vast reach of the rapidly evolving and often regulated commercial marketplace. If anything, many of the special interests are underwriting McCain’s campaign for president – and his rhetorical war against them.”

Times: “But the concerns about Mr. McCain’s relationship with Ms. Iseman underscored an enduring paradox of his post-Keating career. Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.”

Globe: “McCain pressured the Federal Communications Commission to vote on an issue that cleared the way for a major contributor to his presidential campaign to buy a Pittsburgh television station. McCain, in his bluntly worded Dec. 10 letter to the FCC, did not urge a vote favoring the contributor, Paxson Communications. But he acted at the request of the company’s lobbyist, during a period when he used Paxson’s corporate jet four times to travel to campaign events – where he almost always attacks monied special interests. McCain’s intervention in the case drew a speedy, scolding response from William E. Kennard, the FCC chairman, who deemed the Senator’s letter “highly unusual” and suggested it was inappropriate. The House Commerce Committee, which McCain heads, oversees the FCC.”

Times: In late 1999, Ms. Iseman asked Mr. McCain’s staff to send a letter to the commission to help Paxson. … [Mr. McCain] sent two letters to the commission, drawing a rare rebuke for interference from its chairman. In an embarrassing turn for the campaign, news reports invoked the Keating scandal, once again raising questions about intervening for a patron.”

In an online chat last Friday, Robinson was asked about the stories’ similarities when a reader wrote, “Hi, Walter, I read that 2000 article you wrote and you really uncovered all the dirt. Are you mad that The New York Times pieces didn’t give you credit in their report?” Robinson, seemingly agreeing with Hoyt, responded, “Given the focus of the Times piece, which I think obscured the real issue, I’m not unhappy that the Globe was not mentioned.”

This isn’t the first time a national news organization has gotten in trouble re-reporting a story Robinson had already written about. The infamous Dan Rather-60 Minutes story on Bush’s National Guard service that ran in 2004—and ultimately led to Rather’s dismissal from the network—had, for the most part, been covered by Robinson in another series of 2000 stories. That February, Robinson uncovered a trove of military records which showed that Bush had “received credit for attending Air National Guard drills in the fall of 1972 and spring of 1973—a period when his commanders have said he did not appear for duty at bases in Montgomery, Ala., and Houston.”

Robinson also discovered that Ben Barnes, the speaker of the Texas House in 1968, had recently given a sworn deposition given as part of a civil lawsuit in which he said he had made calls to National Guard officials on behalf of Bush after a friend of Bush’s father asked Barnes for help. Robinson’s stories caused a small stir at the time—at one point, a group of Alabama Vietnam vets offered a reward for anyone who could vouch for Bush’s claim that he served in a Montgomery unit in 1972—but it wasn’t until four years later, when CBS aired unverified documents that purported to show the exact same thing, that the story really got any attention.

* Incidentally, I do think the Times story was worthwhile, and not because it highlighted the extent to which McCain’s post-Keating career has been less unspeckled than most think. On this point, I’ll defer to Slate’s Jack Shafer, who defended last week’s piece thusly: “The Times doesn’t have to produce photographic evidence of the hot dog meeting the bun to cast suspicion upon the McCain-Iseman intimacies. If McCain were as close to a male lobbyist as he is Iseman, I’d want the Times to report it.” Shafer also, incidentally, realizes that much else in the story wasn’t all that new: “Much of that story has been reported over the years, but it was still worth pulling together to help voters in 2008 better understand the John McCain who might be their next president…”

Post Categories: 2008 Presidential Campaign & Boston Globe & John McCain & New York Times & Walter Robinson

Chat wrap

May 9th, 2007 → 11:13 am @

Yesterday I had an hour-long, lunch-time chat on, the subject of which was my Sunday Globe Magazine article on sports injuries and the pressures athletes face to play when injured. I know some of you are cursing the fact that you forgot to check it out at the time. Don’t worry: the transcript is now available online.

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Online chats & Sports injuries

Sick of me yet? Because now I’m on your breakfast table…

May 6th, 2007 → 9:18 am @

Well, if you subscribe to the Globe, anyway: I wrote the cover story in this week’s Globe Magazine on the risks and long-term health consequences of pro-athletics and the shifting allegiances among athletes, agents, team doctors, owners, and players. It was a sobering story to write, and nowhere are the risks (and consequences) more frightening than in pro-football, where players ritually abuse their bodies (and their minds) without the safety of a guaranteed contract. Let me know what you think…

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Sports injuries & Sports Reporters

I guess Papelbon’s parents missed the entire 2005 season

April 10th, 2007 → 9:19 am @

“Weeks ago, when his parents booked their trip to Texas this past weekend, they made plans to leave on Sunday. They figured their son would be making his first big-league start (emphasis added) in either the fourth or fifth game of the season. So they weren’t in the stands Sunday night, when Papelbon came out of the bullpen and was so overpowering in squashing a Rangers rally that starter Curt Schilling was moved to say: ‘You can’t understand how unbelievable that is. Until you’re on the mound, you can’t understand that there are very few guys in the history of the game who can do that, much less right now.'”

— “Welcome News: Many, Including Papelbon, Happy He’s Back Closing
The Boston Globe
April 10, 2007

Granted, there was a lot going on that day, but I’m willing to bet that the Papelbon’s parents actually remember that his first big-league start came on July 31, 2005, against the Minnesota Twins. You remember that game: it was the trade deadline. Manny didn’t start. Then, in the eighth, he came in to pinch hit — his presence in the batters box heralded with the theme to “Superman” — with the score tied at three and hit an RBI single up the middle. It was the beginning of the Manny being Manny era. After the game, Paps told the Fenway press corps he had gotten goosebumps when Manny rose off the bunch: “I think, to be honest with you, I bet you everybody on the bench did.” Kinda like how everyone must have felt on Sunday…when Papelbon came out of the bullpen. No Superman music this time, although it wouldn’t have been inappropriate.

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Jonathan Papelbon & Manny Ramirez

NESN gives Boston fans reason to believe the Sox are just as selfishly stupid as they’ve always suspected

March 19th, 2007 → 5:19 pm @

I’m far from the only person who finds baseball’s exclusive deal with DirectTV to be, frankly, offensive. (The recent quasi-compromise is a complete smokescreen.) MLB has officially gotten itself in the business of forcing consumers to choose between two competing distribution channels. This is an effort to make a lot of money, yes, but it’s also an effort to bring more consumers to, which shows the Selig’s deputies don’t have the best grasp of their audiences viewing habits. The DirectTV deal not only pisses me — and you, and everybody else who currently has cable — off, it’s yet another example of baseball’s time-honored tendency to win the battle and lose the war. As John Henry told me in Feeding the Monster, baseball isn’t just competing with football and basketball and hockey for people’s attention, it’s competing with The Departed and the new Halo and YouTube and every other of the million entertainment options out there. And when you take away the opportunity for people to spend more time watching baseball, you’re simultaneously giving them more time to enjoy some other form of entertainment. The web has long prized the notion of “stickiness” — how much time a user spends on any given site. That’s an increasingly important metric across all entertainment options. Baseball is losing out on a chance to stick itself to me. And if I can’t watch the three weekday games and get to know the players and heighten my involvement with my team of choice, my overall connection to MLB is going to lessen. What’s more, online TV still has a long way to go, and MLB’s audience isn’t all that likely to sit in front of their computers for poor picture quality and choppy feeds. So, sure, baseball is making some money now, but it’s not going to accomplish one of its main goals — getting viewers to migrate over to — and it sure could end up making fans feel less connected over time.

But so what, right? It’s not like this story is just breaking. But another one is, a story in which NESN is showing it has internalized MLB’s battle/war valuation all too well. According to an article in today’s Herald, NESN (which the Sox own 80% of) will no longer permit local stations to air highlights while a game is still in progress. Think about that. You’re watching American Idol and at the tail end of an ad break, there’s a teaser for that night’s newscast. But now you won’t get, “Papi hits another two homers as the Sox face off with the Jays; full report at 11.” (Or at least you won’t get a video clip to further draw you in.) That means you’ll see less of those teasers. That means fewer people are likely to stay up and watch the sports highlights. And that means fewer people are going to realize in the middle of the game that, hot damn, they’d rather watch Ortiz crank some into the bleachers than be bored by Paula and Simon bitching at each other. And that means it’s likely that NESN’s boneheaded move with actually translate into fewer people tuning in to the team’s broadcasts. (Can you imagine another TV network actually telling its competition that they were not allowed to run what amounts to free ads in the middle of the programming? Neither can I.)

As the Herald notes, this move could very well be an antecedent to the day when NESN only allows local stations to air highlights if they license — i.e., pay for — them. If that’s indeed true, I’d expect there to be a helluva fight. There are plenty of implications here, not the least of which is U.S. copyright law’s fair use doctrine, which states that the use of copyrighted material for “purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting…is not an infringement of copyright.” Two of the four considerations the law lists as factors in this type of fair use are “the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation” to the work as a whole and “the effect of the use upon the potential market for or value of the copyrighted work.” There’s not a chance in hell that the Sox will ever be able to argue that a minute or two of highlights are a substantial amount of the entire game or that watching the evening news somehow threatens NESN’s ability to benefit from its copyright. (In fact, I’m surprised none of the local stations have brought this up in relation to the use of clips that are aired while the game is still being played…but that could be because promotional ads (“news at 11…”) are, by definition, commercial in nature, while the newscasts themselves would certainly count as “news reporting.”)

I usually defend the Sox when they’re accused to trying to soak every last penny from their franchise; after all, I’d be thrilled if the team sells a million more Red Sox Nation memberships if that translates into more money for the team’s baseball operations. But this feels like one toke over the line. And it feels remarkably stupid as well.

(I’m not a big believe in the cabal — sorry, Tony — but it is interesting that this story doesn’t seem to be on the Globe‘s Red Sox homepage. The Globe, of course, is owned by The New York Times Co., which also happens to be the largest minority owner of the Sox. Or, to simplify things: the Times Company makes lots of money off of NESN.)

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Broadcasting & Cable & & NESN & New York Times

What’s that saying about imitation and flattery again?

December 11th, 2006 → 9:21 am @

Remember that “Tumblin’ Dice” headline in yesterday’s Herald? Gordon Edes does, too.

Post Categories: Boston Globe & Boston Herald & Gordon Edes & Sports Reporters