Jack Shafer

Politico’s rush to cane Herman Cain

Jack Shafer
Oct 31, 2011 21:50 UTC

Let’s assume that Herman Cain misbehaved, in the manner that is alleged in Politico, during his time as the head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s.

Such an assumption is hard to make—not because the allegations are unbelievable, or because Cain vehemently denied the charges today at a National Press Club lunch (“I was falsely accused”), but because Politico wrapped the allegations in journalistic gauze that frays and dissolves as you unwind it.

What are the allegations? To review, Politico reports that:

·At least two of Cain’s female employees complained about his behavior, which included “conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature.”

·These conversation took place at “hotels during conferences,” at “association events,” and at “the association’s offices.”

·Cain also allegedly made “physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.”

Ted Koppel’s misguided nostalgia

Jack Shafer
Oct 27, 2011 21:57 UTC

Ted Koppel, my favorite media punching bag, has stepped back into the ring for another beating.

After exile from ABC News to the BBC and the Discovery Channel, Koppel is now joining Brian Williams’ forthcoming NBC News magazine program Rock Center as a special correspondent. How special? Koppel has never been shy about proclaiming how great he and his peers were during the alleged “golden age” of broadcasting and how much everybody else sucks today. But the preening soundbite he delivered today in the Associated Press about the modern media’s failure sets a new standard for the 71-year-old newsman who anchored ABC News’s Nightline for 25 years.

Koppel states:

Instead of giving the public what it needs to hear, we’re giving the public news that it wants to hear, and one of these days the public is going to turn on us and say, “Why didn’t you tell us about those important things that were going on?”… They’re not going to like the answer and we’re not going to like the answer. We’re going to say we gave you what you wanted.

Much smoke, few flames for right-wing press critics

Jack Shafer
Oct 25, 2011 21:29 UTC

Is this the best the right-wing press critics can do?

In principle, I’m all for James O’Keefe’s guerrilla campaign to destroy the media establishment. The more rough handling journalists receive, the better for them and the better for readers. But the hidden-camera sortie O’Keefe and his Project Veritas’ “To Catch a Journalist” series just flew against Huffington Post White House correspondent Sam Stein fails miserably. It ends up making Stein look normal and O’Keefe slightly tetched.

The allegedly damaging video footage records Dale Maharidge, a former teacher of Stein’s at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, saying that his former student is “old school” and “goes out drinking at night with people.” Maharidge then comments, in reference to Stein, “You get some booze in people, and suddenly the stories start to flow.”

When O’Keefe confronts Stein in a recorded interview, he recasts Maharidge’s statement.

The Gaddafi corpsewatch

Jack Shafer
Oct 21, 2011 02:08 UTC

The newsroom debate over which blood-smeared Muammar Gaddafi images to share with viewers and readers—which consumed wire services, newspapers, and news channels around the world today—seems a tad quaint in the age of the Internet. Thanks to ubiquitous cell phone cameras and hard to govern entities like Al Jazeera, YouTube, Twitter, and other social media that publish first and deliberate later, the old newsroom debates over what images to publish are moot, resembling the futile acts of paternalism a father might inflict on his 24-year-old son who moved out three years ago. It’s a wonderful spectacle, it makes news editors and producers feel important, but it no longer means much.

(Warning: Graphic discussion ahead. If thinking about graphic news images disturbs you and you don’t want to be tempted by hyperlinks that connect to some famous horrific images, please click out of this page now.)

The prejudice against publishing ghastly images and footage was late to arrive in American media, writes Barbie Zelizer in her 2010 book About to Die: How News Images Move the Public. In the early 20th century, images of the dead and the dying were not uncommon in American newspapers. For instance, see the graphic news photo, “The Genesee Hotel Suicide,” which captures a suicide in mid-plunge, and which ran in the Buffalo Courier Express in 1942. Changing ideas about decency, good taste, and propriety pushed such images out of the popular press, she writes, attributing part of the impulse to the censorship of battlefield footage during World War II.

Intrigue in the house of Murdoch

Jack Shafer
Oct 19, 2011 21:54 UTC

New York Times reporter Jeremy W. Peters invests 2,400 words today in a Page One story delineating the “rift” between News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch and his son and heir apparent, News Corp. Chief Operating Officer James Murdoch.

If News Corp. were a normal company and Rupert Murdoch a normal father, readers might glean from this report that a real power struggle is going on for the future of the company. But News Corp. is not your normal company, Rupert is not your normal dad, and there really is no struggle going on for the future of the company, only a replay of the previous “rifts” that have opened between Rupert Murdoch and his two other children by his second wife Anna—Elisabeth and Lachlan. You see, Rupert sets his adult children up to smack them down.

The first of Rupert’s heirs apparent to suffer the public humiliation of a rift was Elisabeth. In 2000, when she was 31, she escaped the family business. A Guardian story from 2000 about her departure says she was “once tipped as a business successor to her father.” What rattled her was her father’s designation of Lachlan as the new heir apparent. The Guardian continues:

When anonymice attack

Jack Shafer
Oct 19, 2011 00:02 UTC

Washington’s anonymous sources are disagreeing with one another today.

In the lead story in today’s New York Times (“U.S. Debated Cyberwarfare in Attack Plan on Libya”), the anonymous sources tell reporters Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker that the issue of whether or not to attack Libya with cyberweapons was “intensely debated” by the Obama administration last March.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post‘s catch-up story by Ellen Nakashima that runs on A5 in today’s print edition, disputes an important element of the Times revelation. Relying on its own anonymice, the Post piece confirms that a cyberwarfare debate took place but asserts unequivocally that the debate “did not reach the White House” according to Pentagon officials. [Emphasis added.]

Obviously, either the Times or the Post owes its readers a correction because the administration cannot have “intensely debated” cyberwar against the Libyan military at the same time that it did not. Such  a fundamental contradiction screams out for a follow-up story by both papers, but will we see them?

How to think about plagiarism

Jack Shafer
Oct 14, 2011 21:50 UTC

An editor must have a heart like leather. Not freshly tanned leather—all supple and yielding like a baby’s bum—but like an abandoned baseball glove that’s been roasting in the Sonoran Desert for five or six years. Only those who are hard of heart can properly deal with the plagiarists who violate the journalistic code.

I’m pleased to report that this morning Politico‘s top editors, John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei, were rock-hearted in resolving charges that their reporter, Kendra Marr, lifted material from the New York Times, the Associated Press, Scripps Howard, Greenwire, The Hill, and elsewhere for at least seven of her stories with no attribution. Marr has resigned. Harris and VandeHei’s compact statement about Marr’s disgrace doesn’t use the word plagiarism, but should, as my friend the press critic Craig Silverman points out. I agree.

“There are no mitigating circumstances for plagiarism,” the cold, cold heart of Washington Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli stated earlier this year after Post reporter Sari Horwitz got caught stealing copy from the Arizona Republic.

Murdoch’s latest scandal

Jack Shafer
Oct 12, 2011 22:48 UTC

Wall Street Journal Europe Publisher Andrew Langhoff resigned yesterday, but why?

A hard-to-comprehend story in today’s Wall Street Journal alleges that Langhoff transgressed by pressuring Wall Street Journal Europe reporters into covering an advertiser, consulting firm ELP, and by contractually promising that WSJE reporters would cover ELP in “special report” sections. (The tainted stories in question now carry a disclaimer.)

There’s a third dimension to the scandal, which the Wall Street Journal article soft-pedals. It turns out that bulk-sold, discounted copies of WSJE were sold to the same advertiser, ELP, to boost circulation. I defy any reader to cull the salient passages and find any evidence or hint of circulatory wrong-doing by the publication.

Bloggy Monday: McGinniss’s anonymous sources; Netflix switcheroo; ask an expert; FOIA turnaround.

Jack Shafer
Oct 10, 2011 21:08 UTC

Alaskan anonymice. Joe McGinniss got knocked by reviewers—me included—for relying so heavily on anonymous sources for his new book, The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. Today he strikes back at his critics in the opinion pages of USA Today, citing Bob Woodward, New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, and Huffington Post media reporter Michael Calderone on why journalists must get anonymice to squeak about the powerful if they’re going to get the story.

In mounting his defense, McGinniss lunges for the “speaking truth to power” cliché and hugs it as if he’s drowning and it’s the only safety buoy bobbing in sight. In the case of McGinniss’s coverage of Palin, who resigned from the office of governor in July 2009, the more appropriate catch phrase would be “speaking truth to those out of power.” Since 2009, Palin has held little power outside of her TV appearances, her reality TV show, her two best-selling books, her sporadic bus tours, and a threat to run for president. By such a wobbly yardstick, even Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich can almost be considered “powerful.”

McGinniss brags in the op-ed that he interviewed about 200 people in Alaska and quoted more than 60 in the book. As I read The Rogue, I kept track of the number of anonymous sources that he cited and came up with more than 50. It seems to me that a book that isn’t about national security or whose information isn’t cocooned beneath a corporate veil, such as The Rogue, should have had a better ratio than 60 named sources to 50 unnamed ones. McGinniss builds the case in his book and his op-ed that Sarah and Todd Palin deal vindictively with people who cross them, although to the best of my knowledge none of their victims have been fished out of Cook Inlet.

The apotheosis of Steve Jobs

Jack Shafer
Oct 6, 2011 22:36 UTC

If BMW had an auteur—the kind of auteur Apple had until last night—would his fans gather at local BMW dealerships when he died to light candles and toss flowers in front of showroom windows the way Steve Jobs fans are now at Apple Stores around the world? Would they storm Twitter to post recollections of the first and second BMWs they owned and thank Mr. BMW for having made their ordinary trips to the store for milk and eggs more like cosmic adventures in motoring?

Obviously not. No other gadgets have wormed themselves into the global psyche the way Steve Jobs’s have. Like most of Jobs’s coups, the takeover was a matter of design. Although he had been synonymous with Apple since the late 1970s by virtue of the computer he developed and marketed with Steve Wozniak, and the cult of Apple was already in full bloom at the time of the introduction of the Macintosh in 1984, Jobs didn’t fashion himself the maximum leader of the cult until he returned to the company in 1996.

Jobs’s restoration was read by his followers as a resurrection, and he encouraged this interpretation by using his regained powers as Apple’s guru to further mesh his identity with that of the company’s products. Jobs became his Macs and iPods and they became him. By and large, they were pretty good products, if not a little pricey. (Ask me, I’ve owned a few.)