CNN’s Richard Roth proves he’s fit to broadcast baseball games

October 11th, 2006 → 4:02 pm @

More gems from today’s coverage…

Around 3:15, CNN’s U.N. correspondent Richard Roth began reporting on-air. From him we learned that:

* When a plane crashes into a residential building, longtime enemies find a way to get beyond their natural animosity: “New York is a tale of many cities, and there are people who would rather, on the East Side rather fly to Chicago than go to the West Side of Manhattan, that’s the way New York is, but obviously it’s a cause for concern for everybody.”

* When the in-studio anchor said the accident scene was not far from LaGuardia, Roth took the opportunity to bitch about New York traffic: “In rush hour it can take forever.” Roth, pro that he is, did recover, and once he realized he was being asked if the accident site was far from LaGuardia via plane, he said, “It’s a great view at times but some painful memories.”

* And finally, it’s gotten harder and harder to buy a quart of milk at 2 am: “New York skyscrapers, it’s certainly a building boon in Manhattan over the last few years especially, even after 9/11. Downtown has got more construction and uptown you can’t walk a block in Manhatan without running in to major construction crews. Small stores and neighborhood stores keep closing in areas and you wonder how they get supplied with food and all that because you’ve got apartment buildings going up nonstop.”

Apparently, it’s not only the Bush administration that feels the U.N. doesn’t need to be a top priority.

Post Categories: Broadcasting & CNN & Media reporting

First in an occasional series: Slate’s “Scott Pilgrim‘s Progress”

October 11th, 2006 → 10:36 am @

This is the first in an occasional series of pieces in which published articles are examined to see how closely they align with reality. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this occasional series has already been launched, with a recent piece on a New York Times story on whether baseball teams’ success in September leads to success in October.

Today we’ll be looking at a piece in Slate titled “Scott Pilgrim‘s Progress: A Brilliant Indie-Rock Cartoon.” The artfully crafted article/slideshow by Dan Kois unpacks Bryan Lee O’Malley’s “indie-rock romantic comedy.” I appreciated the story; as a one-time aficionado of graphic novels who’s fallen a bit behind the times, I’m was glad to be told about a new(ish) entry into the genre that’s apparently worth checking out.

But Kois’s story, while seemingly on point when it details Scott Pilgrim itself (especially in regards to its relationship with manga, a genre about which my knowledge pretty much begins and ends with 1988’s Akira ), makes a number of blunders in a relatively short article. To wit:

* (Comparing O’Malley’s latest release, Scott Pilgrim and the Infitite Sadness, to the Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness) “Each is an artful, ambitious third release by an artist who flourished on the fringe and whose work is suddenly being recognized by the mainstream. And like Mellon Collie, the third volume of O’Malley’s series is a disappointing—and uncharacteristic—misfire.”

Mellon Collie came out in 1995, two years after the Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream, the band’s four million (plus)-selling, quadruple platinum-breakout hit; it reached #10 on the Billboard Top 200 Album Chart. To me, that counts as being recognized by the mainstream.

* “The genius of the first two volumes [of the Scott Pilgrim series] was that they rejected the dead-serious tropes found in most American graphic novels.”

I’m not sure what graphic novels Kois has been reading, but many of the country’s best-known graphic novelists rely on humor. There are the old standbys like Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb. There are newer artists, like Jessica Abel (Kois cites her La Perdida but ignores her Artbabe series, which included classics like “Too Punk To Funk”). Joe Sacco achieved renown after publishing Palestine, but he began his career with works like But I Like It, a chronicling of his European tour with the now-defunct punk band the Miracle Workers, . No one will ever accuse Peter Bagge of being overly serious, and even Optic Nerve author Adrian Tomine and Daniel Clowes, best known for Ghost World and David Boring, use humor to address their characters’ alienation and frustration.

* “Another link between Scott Pilgrim and manga lies in O’Malley’s subject matter: romance. With a few exceptions—Alex Robinson and Tom Beland among them—literary graphic novelists have spurned romance as a subject.”

Virtually all of the examples cited above deal with romance. Harvey Pekar famously chronicled his courtship and marriage; R. Crumb’s entire oeuvre focuses on his relationship to women; Tomine and Clowes almost always use romance as a jumping off point.

I enjoyed Kois’s story, and I’ve already ordered the Scott Pilgrim books. I would have enjoyed his story even more (and still would have ordered the Pilgrim books) had Kois not overreached in trying to prove how unique O’Malley is as an artist.

Post Categories: Media reporting & Slate & The Factchecking Series

Times really dumb and really smart…all at the same time!

October 10th, 2006 → 10:26 am @

It’s no secret that I like pointing out the sheer ridiculousness of assorted Times articles; as any media observer knows, I’m far from the only person who sees a certain amount of obstinate boneheadedness in the Times. (A humorous aside: the Times couldn’t even spell the name of the author of that story’s name correctly.)

Yesterday’s Times contained another doozy: Laura Holson’s shockingly incredulous story on Warner Bros. The thesis is pretty much summed up in the story’s hed: “After Big Flops, Warner Hopes for ‘Sleeper’ Hit in Smaller Films.” Here’s the evidence to support that thesis:

* Warner Bros. has had some unexpected flops from “conventional choices” that seemed “safe from the start.” One prominent example is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water.” Why any M. Night project would be called “safe” — he’s never reached the artistic or box office success he had with “The Sixth Sense” and has become increasingly ridiculed in Hollywood and among critics — is beyond me. What’s more, “Lady”‘s premise is laughingly indulgent: Shyamalan decided to spent $100 million or so filming a fairy tale he wrote for his daughter in which a superintendent saves a young woman from a pool…except said woman turns out to be a character from a bedtime story. Safe, indeed.

* The studio has “successfully paired offbeat directors with mainstream projects. Tim Burton, for instance, was not an obvious choice to direct ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ nor was Johnny Depp an obvious star.” It’s unclear what we’re supposed to take from this — I assume Burton is an “offbeat” director, but in what world is “Charlie in the Chocolate Factory” a mainstream project? What’s more, Burton has directed his share of mainstream successes, like, say, the first three Batman movies. And it’s hard to think of a more obvious pairing for a “Charlie” movie than Burton and Depp, who famously teamed up in “Edward Scissorhands.”

* Now Warner is dependent on hoping that “smaller, riskier films” succeed…smaller, riskier films like Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” It’s “smaller,” I guess, because it only cost $90 million, and ‘riskier’ because Scorses, Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, and Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up to make a gangster film is an obvious case of box office poison.

But for every head-slapping mess, the Times has more than its share of brilliant, holy-shit, page-turning gems. The Arts and Business sections are both as good as I ever remember them being. And there’ve been a number of pieces I’ve clipped as of late for no reason other than I want to make sure I have a chance to read them again. Take this Sunday’s story on post-traumatic stress in elephants and what it can tell researchers about human behavior. Or Joe Sharkey’s first-person account about flying over the Amazon in a corporate jet and getting clipped by a Boeing 737. (Unfortunately, I waited too long to post this and now you need to have a Times Insider account or pay to read it.) For the past several days, the Times has been running a series on “how American religious organizations benefit from an increasingly accommodating government,” and unlike some of the paper’s we-want-a-Pulitzer-multiparters, this one is a worthwhile (even necessary) and fascinating series that few papers have the resources or the brainpower to pull off. Finally, in today’s paper, there’s an amazing story about a suburban high school teacher wh0 serially seduced her male students. (And I do mean amazing: the teacher married one student, had his child, and then seduced that child’s friends.)

EDIT: Burton, of course, only directed the first two Batmans…the good ones, with Michael Keaton.

Post Categories: Media reporting & New York Times

Reality bites: The Times ain’t gonna let no stinkin’ facts get in the way of a story

October 8th, 2006 → 10:21 am @

“[M]omentum going into the playoffs means nothing, right? Wrong. … Since 1950, the 1990 Cincinnati Reds and the 1974 Oakland Athletics are the only other teams to win the World Series despite finishing the season with a sub-.500 record over their final 30 games. But they had records only slightly under .500, finishing at 14-16. …

So playing well at the end of the season is important. It not only increases the chances that a team will make the playoffs, it also increases the chances it will reach its ultimate goal. …

Playing well at the end of the season may even be more important than playing well over the entire season. World Series champions had a higher winning percentage (.622) over their final 30 games than they did over the entire season (an average of .606). This is not true for World Series runners-up. World Series runners-up win at a clip of .610 over the entire season and over their final 30 games.”

Success in September is the Key to Winning in October
by Martin B. Schmidt
New York Times
October 8, 2006

2006 Playoff Teams and Their Records Over the Season’s Final 30 Games
New York Yankess: 18-12
Detroit Tigers: 13-17
Tigers Win Series, 3-1

Minnesota Twins: 19-11
Oakland A’s: 17-13
A’s Win Series, 3-0

Los Angeles Dodgers: 18-12
New York Mets: 15-15
Mets Win Series, 3-0

San Diego Padres: 21-9
St. Louis Cardinals: 13-17
Cardinals Win Series, 3-1

So, to review: in all four of this year’s Division Series, the team with the worse record over the final 30 regular season games won. The Twins, with the best record in the AL over the season’s last month (and a day), were swept. The Padres, with a .700 winning percentage and the best record in all of baseball over that same period, lost in four games to a team that played .433 ball. Of the four teams in the LCS, two had losing records in September and one (the Mets) went .500…and they only managed that by sweeping the last place Washington Nationals during the season’s final series.

But this must be an anomaly, right? Not in this millenium. The team with the worse record over the season’s final 30 games has won four of the last six World Series: the 18-12 White Sox beat the 19-11 Astros last year; the 21-9 Angels beat the 22-8 Giants in 2002; the 15-15 Diamondbacks beat the 19-10-1 Yankees in 2001; and the 12-18 Yankees beat the 16-14 Mets in 2000.

Yeah, success in September sure does seem to be the key to winning in October.

Post Categories: Media reporting & New York Times & Sports Reporters

Damn you, Jon Friedman! (Or: man, do I need to figure out a better way to spend my days.)

October 4th, 2006 → 6:13 pm @

Just last night I was telling someone how I regretted, um, engaging with MarketWatch media columnist Jon Friedman. In fact, I regretted it within days of actually doing it. Since then, I’ve managed to avoid commenting on even a single one of his columns. And there have been some doozies.

But today, Jon sucked me back in to your odd, through-the-looking glass world with a column titled “I hate the media — and why you should too.” Jon’s bete noires: “a) we feel compelled to pander to all points of view b) we all too often forsake analysis in our reporting, overlooking the real meaning about why something has happened and c) we make ill-advised judgments, especially when celebrities are involved, in the hope of getting a big fat scoop.” (What do you mean “we,” white man?)

WIthout further ado, Jon’s examples:

a) A NYT piece on Donald Rumsfeld’s squash game, which, apparently, was written to “appease pro-Rumsfeld readers.”

Funny, I didn’t quite get that from the story, which did claim to offer a “window into Mr. Rumsfeld’s complicated psyche.” Let’s go to the tape:

* Rumsfeld cheats: “He…often wins points because, after hitting a shot, he does not get out of the way so his opponent has a chance to return the ball, a practice known in squash as ‘clearing.'”

* Rumsfeld is in danger of losing his mind: “The almost-daily matches, Mr. Rumsfeld, a former Princeton wrestler, acknowledged last year, have helped preserve his ‘sanity’ in a period in which he and the administration have come under increasing political attack.”

* Rumsfeld refuses to acknowledge that it’s a different world than it was thirty years ago: “‘One time I saw Rumsfeld and I referred to hardball as an old man’s game, and he just stared at me,’ says David Bass, a public relations executive who sometimes plays on the Pentagon courts.”

* Rumsfeld is an obnoxious braggart: “Nor does Mr. Rumsfeld lack for bravado. Mohamed Awad, a former champion player who was once ranked as high as ninth in the world, spent a half hour hitting with him last February at a racquet club in Munich, where Mr. Rumsfeld was attending a military conference. … Afterward, he said, Mr. Rumsfeld suggested that he could outplay another septuagenarian politician still known for his prowess in squash, the 78-year-old Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak.”

* Rumsfeld gets his ideas for transforming the military from squash: “Mr. Rumsfeld himself has suggested that his ideas about transforming the military into a smaller, more agile force, like the one he pushed for in invading Iraq, were influenced by his squash playing.”

Indeed, Jon, the Times did apparently conclude, “since Rumsfeld isn’t going anywhere, we might as well get to understand him a little better.” And when they did, it clearly was an example of “pandering to the right wing.”

b) Stories detailing former President Carter’s criticism of Bush that don’t acknowledge that Carter’s son is running for the Senate.

Jon’s example? Well, he’s been “noticing headlines — even on AOL’s ‘news’ site, for heaven’s sake — proclaiming ‘Carter Rips Bush.'”

Doing a Nexis search of the last 60 days, I found one story that had the words “Carter Rips Bush,” and that was in a brief in the San Jose Mercury News. The headline? “Campaigning for son, Carter rips Bush tenure.” A search for “Carter criticizes Bush” turned up two stories: a 9/28 story from the Reno Gazette-Journal (“Ex-president, son make stop in Fallon on campaign trail; Carters criticize Bush administration”) and one an AP from that same day (“President Carter criticizes Bush at son’s campaign stop”). (Searches for “Carter Slams Bush,” “Carter Disses Bush,” and “Carter Bitchslaps Bush” didn’t turn up anything at all.) The only NYTimes story since mid-August that talked about Carter criticizing Bush was one whose headline read, “Fathers Defeated, Democratic Sons Strike Back.”

c) The stories detailing Roger Clemens’s supposed presence in the Jason Grimsley steroid affidavit. “Just as Clemens’ team, the Houston Astros, was trying to close in on an improbable position in the postseason, a shadowy news item from the Los Angeles Times’ Web site began making the rounds. It said that Clemens and other star players had allegedly been using performance-enhancing substances, adding to the biggest scandal in sports today. … On Oct. 3…the federal prosecutor. … was quoted in the piece as saying that the Los Angeles Times’ story contained ‘significant inaccuracies.’ … It’s irresponsible for a reporter to circulate unconfirmed information and portray it as hard news. But it’s worse than that. It’s just not fair.”

Now, let’s put aside that this report was actually printed in the Times; it wasn’t some “shadowy news item” that only ran on the paper’s web site. Nor was it unsubstantiated: “A source with authorized access to an unredacted affidavit allowed The Times to see it briefly and read aloud some of what had been blacked out of the public copies. A second source and confidant of Grimsley had previously disclosed player identities and provided additional details about the affidavit.” It would appear that the Times actually read the affidavit. And speaking of lack of context, how about pointing out that the prosecutor could be covering for Clemens because he’s trying to get him to cooperate? Or, for that matter, the possibility that some of the names are wrong…but Clemens is one of the people named?

You know what I hate about the media? People who criticize without understanding, people who talk about “trends” without offering examples, and people who rush to a celebrity’s defense before all the evidence is in. Oh, and I also hate it when I get sucked back in to writing about Jon Friedman again.

Post Categories: Jon Friedman & Media reporting

Framing the debate

September 22nd, 2006 → 12:14 pm @

Earlier today, the Huffington Post put up an interview with press critic, Committee to Protect Journalists co-founder, and New York Review of Books contributor Michael Massing. It’s a long, interesting piece; I don’t always agree with Massing, but I’m (almost) always interested in what he has to say.

But one of Massing’s answers particularly bothered me. When asked about the political pressures today’s media outlets need to deal with — pressures that are both very real and very frightening — Massing says, “If you look at The New York Times and The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times – probably our three top newspapers – it’s pretty extraordinary what they’ve been running. The New York Times has in some ways become the voice of the opposition in this country. Day after day, I’ve been looking at the Times and have been struck by how much they’ve been willing to run stories exposing incompetence and wrongdoing and documenting things that have been going wrong around the world.”

First off, it’s incredible (and incredibly upsetting) that coverage of politics has devolved to the point where people are struck by the extent to which the media is doing its job. Just as troubling is the way in which Massing frames this coverage: as the “voice of the opposition.” This is language that is (and should be) used to describe a political party not in power. It’s precisely this type of language that gives ammunition to politicians (in this instance, the Bush administration) who want to paint negative coverage as fundamentally stemming from a ideological divide (the NY liberal elite versus the politicians that represent the hoi polloi). Exposing incompetence and wrongdoing, documenting problems in the world — that doesn’t mean the Times (or any other outlet, for that matter), is the voice of the opposition, it means the paper is doing its job: ferreting out the truths that the politicians, business leaders, etc., want to hide from the public. Massing is right to say this important work is under attack, but when he uses language that makes it sound like it’s the voice of the opposition and not the voice of a free press that’s being muzzled, he must be warming Karl Rove’s heart.

Post Categories: Media reporting & Michael Massing & New York Times

Context is everything: The Supreme Court, the Columbia Journalism Review, and The New York Times

August 31st, 2006 → 10:31 am @

I’m not someone who gets off on slagging the MSM (or mainstream media, for those of you who don’t spend your days trolling sites dedicated to dissing the press). But there’s one area in which I think the press consistently falls short: providing context for the facts and figures cited in their articles. Two recent examples from The New York Times:

* In yesterday’s paper, Linda Greenhouse, the Times‘s Supreme Court reporter, wrote an article titled “Women Suddenly Scarce Among Justices’ Clerks.” Greenhouse describes a one-year decline in the number of female clerks on the Court. “In interviews, two of the justices, David H. Souter and Stephen G. Breyer, suggested that the sharp drop in women among the clerkship ranks reflected a random variation in the applicant pool,” Greenhouse writes. To prove that this explanation isn’t cutting it in the legal community, she writes, “But outside the court, those who care about what goes on inside are thirsting for more than statistical randomness as an explanation. A post on one popular legal Web site, the Volokh Conspiracy, asked, ‘Why so few women Supreme Court clerks?’ and drew 135 comments during a single week in July.”

I guess 135 comments sounds like a lot, but earlier this month I got more than 50 comments on one post in about 24 hours, and I’m not running what amounts to a water-cooler site for lawyers and law students around the country. Were these 135 comments made up of a dozen or so people posting a dozen times each? Were the posts attributing the one-year drop to any particular cause, or were they, as Breyer, Souter, and at least some of the relevant data indicated, just a random fluctuation? (Ruth Bader Ginsberg has noted this year’s decline in at least one speech, but declined to discuss her thoughts on the matter with Greenhouse.) Readers of the article will never know. Greenhouse’s piece was presented as a front-page news story (printed under the rubric “Supreme Court Memo”), but, with the Volokh Conspiracy comment board the only example of any actual debate or discussion, it looks more like an op-ed written by a reporter with a history of political activism: In 1989, Greenhouse participated in a Pro-Choice rally (in violation of Times policy) and in a recent speech, she described crying at a Simon & Garfunkel concert because the war in Iraq had convinced her that her generation was “mak[ing] the same mistakes” in running the country that previous generations had made. The Times has drawn fire in recent years for pushing agendas in its news pages. Without any context, this has the appearance of another example of that type of reporting.

* Another story, printed earlier this month, also relies on Interweb-based stats and also presents them in a vacuum. In an article detailing the resignation of the top two editors of the Columbia Journalism Review‘s daily website after budget cuts and a change in direction, Kit Seelye writes, “In 2005, received an honorable mention from the National Press Club in the category of ‘distinguished contribution’ to online journalism. It now receives nearly 500,000 page views a month, Mr. Lovelady, [one of the editors,] said, up 30 percent from the beginning of the year.”

Again, 500,000 page views sounds impressive at first blush, but what does that number really mean? A little poking around shows that it means Columbia Journalism School Dean Nick Lemann was arguably right to focus the magazine’s limited resources elsewhere. In August, I had 300,000 page views…and I don’t have a paid staff of writers and editors, a connection to an Ivy League university, or any type of marketing or advertising. A handful of sites in the Gawker media empire are regularly topping 350,000 page views a day, according to proprieter Nick Denton’s personal website.*

I’ve argued before that statistics can be used to prove almost anything. The Times has one of the most sophisticated news-gathering operations in the world, and its manpower and resources allow it to cover stories in more depth and with more nuance than the vast majority of media outlets out there. It wouldn’t take much to throw in some context with those figures (and it would make sense for the Times to be extra-careful about the appearance of reporters using the news pages as a forum for their political views). When the media is under attack from so many quarters, it’s crucial places like the Times do absolutely everything it can to show readers it deserves their attention and trust. This would be a good — and cheap — place to start.

* This section initially read: “A handful of sites in the Gawker media empire were regularly topping 350,000 page views a day back in September 2004. (That appears to be the last month that Nick Denton, Gawker Media’s proprietor, posted data on daily web traffic.)” The site traffic figures posted on Denton’s site are actually live; he posted the blog entry in which he began putting up page view figures in 2004.

Post Categories: Media reporting & New York Times