Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

If it weren’t for bad luck…

Sunday, June 1st, 2014

I’ve briefly touched on, but never discussed in detail, Philadelphia’s two troubled daily newspapers (the Daily News and the Inquirer). In brief, they’ve gone through bankruptcy, ownership changes, ownership conflicts, and more ownership changes.

Early last week, the papers were bought by a group of investors led by Lewis Katz.

Last night, Lewis Katz and six other people were killed in a private jet crash.

This is sad and awful and I don’t intend to mock anyone’s death. I note it here because it seems like the Philly papers are just one hard luck story after another. Mr. Katz’s son is apparently going to take his place on the board that manages the papers; if you read the linked article about the purchase, though, it doesn’t seem clear that the late Mr. Katz or his partners had a turn-around plan for the papers, or that they even expected to win the bidding war for them. With Mr. Katz gone, I suspect that’s going to complicate things even more.

(Hattip: Jimbo.)

News of the world.

Thursday, May 15th, 2014

The female editor of a major daily newspaper has been forced out of her position.

Also, the NYT let their executive editor go.

Today in literary fraud.

Monday, May 12th, 2014

When asked about questions about the story’s veracity by the Israeli newspaper Haaetz, the film’s director said, “That is exactly like the people who deny the existence of concentration camps. This is a true story. Everything that happened during the Holocaust is unbelievable and impossible to grasp, and people therefore also find it difficult to believe this story.”

Yeah, well, maybe. But I think you can ask questions about a story without being a Holocaust denier; the key is the phrasing. “What you’re saying happened doesn’t line up with what we know, historically, about the Holocaust, including the testimony of other survivors, Ms. Defonseca. Can you explain the differences?”

In related news, Misha Defonseca has been ordered to repay $22.5 million to her former publisher Mt. Ivy Press and Jane Daniel, who owns Mt. Ivy.

Misha who the what now? $22.5 million? That’s Steve King money!

Ms. Defonseca wrote a book called Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years. It didn’t sell well in the US, but was popular in Europe: it was adapted as an opera and as a French film, “Surviving With Wolves”.

…Misha Defonseca wrote of her experience of being a young Jewish girl on her own during World War II, fleeing into the woods where she was adopted by wolves, and killing a Nazi soldier.

The LAT is a little less clear on this next step than I would like, but apparently there was a dispute between Ms. Defonseca, Mt. Ivy, and Vera Lee (“a French speaker chosen to work with Defonseca”).

A judge found that Daniel and Mt. Ivy had withheld royalty payments, hidden money in offshore accounts and failed to market the book. Rights for the book reverted to Defonseca, and she was to be awarded damages of $32.4 million.

This now also becomes an excellent example of “Be careful what you wish for, because you may just get it.” Ms. Daniel, of course, appealed the verdict. And as part of the appeal, she hired people to take a closer look at Ms. Defonseca’s story.

Which turned out to be almost complete bullshit.

An American geneologist worked with Belgian counterparts to track down Defonseca’s true origins. She was born Monique De Wael in Brussels, where she attended Catholic school during the time she had claimed to be lost in the woods.
One part of the story was true: As a young girl, she lost her parents. Both had been members of the Resistance and were deported and killed. She was raised by relatives — not wolves.

And she’s admitted the fabrication:

“This story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving.”

Interestingly, Wikipedia has a “Fake memoirs” page, but it does not break out Holocaust memoirs into a separate category.

Books in brief: Busted

Saturday, May 10th, 2014

Busted: A Tale of Corruption and Betrayal in the City of Brotherly Love is the true story of two crusading female reporters for an underfunded newspaper, who exposed massive corruption in the Philadelphia Police Department and won the Pulitzer Prize for their work.

True tales of journalism appeal to me. And the book has blurbs from two writers I admire, Mark Bowden and Edna Buchanan. So I added it to my wish list when I first heard about it, and my beloved and indulgent brother and sister-in-law picked it up for me as a birthday present. (Thanks, guys!)

Given that it was something I asked for, and received as a present, this review may seem kind of churlish. But, while I appreciated the gift and enjoyed the book, it has some problems. And it would be unfair to my readers not to mention those problems, family matters aside.

The book is listed as by Wendy Ruderman and Barbara Lasker. Ms. Ruderman and Ms. Lasker are the two reporters who did the Pulitzer-prize winning “Tainted Justice” series for the Philadelphia Daily News, and were officially credited with the prize. I do find it odd and interesting that Ms. Ruderman and Ms. Lasker do not mention that they actually shared the “Investigative Reporting” prize that year with Sheri Fink of the NYT. I do remember that there was some controversy over that; Ms. Fink’s work was originally in the “Feature Writing” category, but the Pulitzer board moved it to “Investigative Reporting”. It doesn’t diminish Ms. Ruderman’s and Ms. Lasker’s accomplishment that they shared the prize, but not mentioning that fact makes me wonder.

Additionally, while the book carries both bylines, it appears to have been entirely a Ms. Ruderman production. When Ms. Lasker is mentioned, it is always in the third person as “Barbara”, while Ms. Ruderman narrates the book in the first person. Ms. Ruderman is a talented writer, but I feel the book would have benefited from more of Ms. Lasker’s perspective in the first person, rather than Ms. Ruderman’s recounting of her thoughts and feelings after the fact. For example, I’d love to hear Ms. Lasker’s account of being slapped by a source, and getting upset afterwards, because she lost her pen, from her own mouth rather than Ms. Ruderman’s. (The Daily News, being a broke newspaper, provided reporters with cheap pens. Ms. Lasker sprang for the “four for $3.99″ ones at the grocery store and losing one was “a big deal”. As well it should be. Crappy pens suck. Don’t buy pens at the dollar store, either. Just saying.)

It is possible that I may be mistaken, and this is just an authorial device. If so, it seems to me to be an unusual one; most collaborations of this sort that I’ve read set off the individual contributions by name, for example “Barbara” and “Wendy”.

Busted seems like a short book. It comes in at 242 pages (including acknowledgements) but it feels even shorter than that. And this leads into two more problems with the book. The first one is that it feels padded, and not in a good way. I would have liked more descriptions of the journalistic process Ms. Ruderman and Ms. Lasker followed; but I have to face the fact that their journalistic process was dogged, unrelenting, boots-on-ground going through search warrants and talking to people work. (As opposed to the “reporter with a database” model that seems to pervade much of modern journalism.) Instead, there’s a lot of discussion of the precarious finances of the Daily News and of Ms. Ruderman’s and Ms. Lasker’s personal lives.

And that’s the second problem. Ms. Ruderman spends a lot of time discussing her difficulties striking a balance between being a good wife and parent and pursuing a good story. I get that, I sympathize with that, but lots of women have that problem. Granted, not all of them are spending their days searching for crack dealers, but a little bit of the work/life balance whinging goes a long way.

There’s also some stuff that I think flat out doesn’t belong.

Barbara had long, wavy highlighted blond hair and a tangerine slice of a nose. Her big green eyes, flecked with caramel, reminded me of top-of-the-line granite kitchen counters. She rimmed them with dark olive eyeliner and a hint of grayish blue eye shadow. With her coral lip gloss, silver hoop earrings, snug skirts, and candy-colored blouses, Barbara came off all bubble-gum–wifty and gee-whiz. But that was just her facade.

What the frack? If I was Ms. Ruderman’s editor, I’d have cut everything except maybe the last two sentences, and I would have cut the first half of the second to last one. This isn’t the only paragraph in which Ms. Ruderman dwells on physical descriptions of Ms. Lasker. And there’s also quite a bit of material about Ms. Lasker’s misadventures in the dating scene, including failed dates and her relationship with her neighbor “Hutch”.

(Side note about “Hutch”: “A gun lover, he kept a 9mm Glock in his bedroom dresser and stashed shotguns and hunting rifles in a locked safe. Barbara hated guns.” Yet later on, when Ms. Lasker and Ms. Ruderman are afraid the Philadelphia PD is targeting them, “Hutch” is the person Ms. Lasker looks to for protection. Odd, isn’t it, how people who “hate guns” don’t hesitate to turn to people who have guns for protection? Especially when you’re afraid of “the only ones” you think should have guns?)

I’m not going to throw around my feminist credentials here, because I don’t have any. I believe in equality of opportunity for women. I believe women have a right to go about their lives and make choices without being physically attacked or sexually abused. I think the best rape deterrent is two to the chest and one to the head, administered by the victim at the time of the assault. I support strong, intelligent women. If that makes me a feminist, so be it. I don’t claim the title.

But the dwelling on physical descriptions of Ms. Lasker makes me uncomfortable. If it had been “Mr. Ruderman” instead of “Ms. Ruderman” who had written the paragraph above, would we be hearing complaints from women? “What do her physical attributes and her dating life have to do with her ability to do the job?” What, indeed?

(And how do green eyes remind you of granite kitchen counters, anyway?)

This is a shame, because Ms. Ruderman could have found other ways to fill space. I would have liked to hear more stories about their editor, Gar Joseph, to take one example. You have to like an editor who tells his staff, “I don’t give a shit about the parade unless a small child is entangled in the ropes of the Mighty Mouse balloon and choked to death, so don’t waste a reporter on it.” We could use more editors like that these days. Ms. Ruderman could also, perhaps, have filled in some more context on the Inquirer/Daily News war and the struggles of both papers in the new economy. And it would have been nice to see the “Tainted Justice” series put into the context of Philadelphia’s long history of police corruption.

That leads into my final issue with Busted. And, to be fair, this really doesn’t have anything to do with the writing (which is good) or the book’s narrative (which is compelling). But I feel like I have to ask this question of Ms. Ruderman and Ms. Lasker:

In the end, what did you accomplish?

The only result that’s mentioned in the book is some reforms in the way the narcotics division operates, and most of those reforms seem (from Ms. Ruderman’s account) to be stronger restatements of existing policy rather than actual rule changes.

And these events took place after the book was published, so it may be unfair to drag them in here. However, there is an elephant in the room that can’t be ignored:

The officers involved in the “Tainted Justice” investigation, including Jeffrey Cujdik and Thomas Tolstoy, will not face any charges for their actions. As a matter of fact, while they may face some internal disciplinary action, most reports I’ve read say it is very likely that they will be allowed back on the street and awarded back pay including “lost overtime pay”.

Okay. So let’s set aside the sexual assault allegations against Thomas Tolstoy for a moment. After all, these allegations come down to “he said/she said”, and shouldn’t we give the benefit of the doubt to the accused? Even if there are multiple complaints from multiple women? Even if at least one of those women says she was never contacted by investigators?

Let’s set aside the falsification of warrants charges against Jeffrey Cujdik, too. After all, much of the case against him rests on the word of a convicted drug dealer and known drug addict turned informant. Should we trust someone like that? Even if his charges are backed up by outside evidence, including the search warrants he allegedly lied on?

We still have the raids on merchants, where Jeffrey Cujdik and Thomas Tolstoy, among others, disabled surveillance cameras and took money and property from store owners. This is not a “he said/they said” situation: for God’s sake, these men are on video committing these acts! And those acts weren’t just violations of department policy: if you or I stole stuff from a bodega, we’d be prosecuted.

But Jeffrey Cujdik, Thomas Tolstoy, Robert McDonnell Jr., and Richard Cujdik (Jeffery’s brother) are walking away without charges and with back pay for right now.


Why do the good citizens of Philadelphia tolerate this? Why are the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Fraternal Order of Police not being treated as criminal gangs? There’s evidence that both organizations attempted to intimidate witnesses to Cujdik and Tolstoy’s conduct; where are the RICO charges? Where are any criminal charges?

I know what Lawrence will probably say the answer is: the mayor of Philadelphia is an African-American Democrat, and the Obama administration is unlikely to bring charges against the police department that would embarrass him. Perhaps this is the case. I’m pretty cynical, but I haven’t quite reached that level of cynicism yet.

Busted is a good story. I just wish it was a more satisfying one, with a better ending.

Quote of the day.

Friday, April 4th, 2014

As the crucial special session neared, the Times began to resemble a Democratic house organ.

–Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, page 198 in the paperback edition (Chapter 11, “The Majesty of the Law”, discussing the legal and legislative battles over Moses’ parks plan).

Dear Prudence…

Monday, March 24th, 2014

A Slate Plus membership will give readers special access to the site’s editors and writers, as well as members-only discussions with Emily Yoffe, Slate’s Dear Prudence advice columnist. Members will also be invited to give advice on which politicians or entertainers they would like to see profiled.

This will almost be worth $5 a month to watch.

Bad journalist! No biscuit!

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

I was going to put this in one of the random posts, but simply forgot. It probably deserves a separate post anyway. Back in December of last year, the LAT ran a story about Occidental College. Specifically, the LAT alleged that Occidental had failed to report 27 incidents of sexual assault in 2012: the paper stated that the college was required, under the terms of the Clery Act, to report those incidents. It appears that there was some back and forth between the college and the LAT over this, and…

Occidental representatives approached The Times early this month to seek a correction. Documents reviewed by The Times this week show that the 27 incidents did not fall under the law’s disclosure requirements for a variety of reasons.

Some of the incidents were “sexual harassment, inappropriate text messages or other conduct not covered by the act”. Others took place off of campus property and thus did not have to be reported. Others took place in 2011 and were reported then. So, basically, the LAT‘s article was bullshit. But wait, there’s more!

Separately, as they began looking into the complaint, Times editors learned from the author of the articles, staff writer Jason Felch, that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with someone who was a source for the Dec. 7 story and others Felch had written about Occidental’s handling of sexual assault allegations. Felch acknowledged that after the relationship ended, he continued to use the person as a source for future articles.

Can you say, “conflict of interest”? Can you say, “the Times fired the reporter’s ass“? I knew you could. (Hattip: Romenesko.)

Leadership Secrets of Non-Fictional Characters (part 11 in a series)

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

“He was always such an a—— to people working for him,” one insider says of the bombastic Brit. Morgan’s last show is likely to be this week, but no specific date has been set. We hear it was low ratings and a bad attitude that killed it, and the decision was made by network boss Jeff Zucker. “The makeup girls suffered the worst — he was rude and belligerent,” says our source. “The general feeling is Morgan didn’t show any respect to anyone working under him — the people who were trying to make him look good.”

Yes, this is a gossip column in a NYC paper. As much as I dislike Piers Morgan (and hope he spends time in prison for phone hacking), I would recommend taking the report itself with a grain of salt.

It does, however, give me an opportunity to make a point.

I don’t remember who originated this quote: I want to say it is a Dave Barry-ism, but I could very well be wrong.

Anyway: “If someone is nice to you, but rude to the waitress, they are not a nice person.”

You come at the King (City), you best not miss.

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

The LAT has a second-day story on the King City PD arrests, noted in this space yesterday.

There are several interesting new aspects to the story:

Obit watch: February 21, 2014.

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Former NBC news correspondent Garrick Utley.

Fluent in Russian, German and French, he reported from some 75 countries in a multifaceted career that included 30 years at NBC. He was a bureau chief in London and Paris for the network, chief foreign correspondent, weekend news anchor and substitute for John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw on “NBC Nightly News.” He also hosted magazine programs and moderated the Sunday morning program “Meet the Press.” He later worked for ABC News and CNN.

Random notes: January 28, 2014.

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

Yeah, yeah, Pete Seeger’s dead. A couple of reactions I liked: Tam. Travis McGee Reader.

One additional thing you have to like Pete for: giving a name to one of the great combat aircraft of our time.

How unethical do you have to be in order to be denied a law license in California? This unethical.

Or do you? I’ve seen a fair number of people posing this as Glass being unfairly denied a shot at redemption. After all, his crimes were nearly twenty years ago, they argue, and for the past ten years he’s not only kept his nose clean but done “exemplary” work as a clerk for a law firm.

And I’m not unsympathetic to the “shot at redemption” argument. I don’t hold any brief for Glass, or his behavior, and it bothers me a little that I’m more willing to give him that shot than I was Michael Vick. I need to search my soul a little more over this.

But the hand wringing is a little more offputting. Those arguing in favor of Glass seem to be missing some key findings:

The record also discloses instances of dishonesty and disingenuousness occurring after Glass’s exposure, up to and including the State Bar evidentiary hearing in 2010. In the New York bar proceedings that ended in 2004, as even the State Bar Court majority acknowledged, he made misrepresentations concerning his cooperation with The New Republic and other publications and efforts to aid them identify all of his fabrications. He also submitted an incomplete list of articles that injured others. We have previously said about omissions on bar applications: “Whether it is caused by intentional concealment, reckless disregard for the truth, or an unreasonable refusal to perceive the need for disclosure, such an omission is itself strong evidence that the applicant lacks the ‘integrity’ and/or ‘intellectual discernment’ required to be an attorney.” (Gossage, supra, at p. 1102, italics added.)


Our review of the record indicates hypocrisy and evasiveness in Glass’s testimony at the California State Bar hearing, as well. We find it particularly disturbing that at the hearing Glass persisted in claiming that he had made a good faith effort to work with the magazines that published his works. He went through many verbal twists and turns at the hearing to avoid acknowledging the obvious fact that in his New York bar application he exaggerated his level of assistance to the magazines that had published his fabrications, and that he omitted from his New York bar list of fabrications some that actually could have injured real persons. He also testified that he told his lawyer to work with Harper’s Magazine to identify his fabrications, yet evaded questions concerning whether his lawyer had done so, while insisting that he took responsibility for an inferred failure to follow what obviously were significant instructions. He asserted that he had been too distraught to recognize that the list of fabrications The New Republic gave his lawyer was incomplete — or that in his response he had denied that articles including the egregious Taxis and the Meaning of Work were in fact fabricated — while acknowledging that within a few days of his firing he made arrangements to reschedule a final examination for the end of the exam period and did well on the exam he took within a week of his exposure. Indeed, despite his many statements concerning taking personal responsibility, and contrary to what he suggested in his New York bar application, it was not until the California Bar proceedings that he shouldered the responsibility of reviewing the editorials his employers published disclosing his fabrications, thus failing to ensure that all his very public lies had been corrected publically and in a timely manner. He has “not acted with the high degree of frankness and truthfulness” and the “high standard of integrity” required by this process.” (Gossage, supra, 23 Cal.4th at p. 1102, italics added.)

This strikes me as being less “a bunch of snobs who don’t want to let a reformed man in” and more “we found ongoing evidence of dishonesty and deceit by this person who is supposedly reformed and asking us for special consideration”.

I totally missed this one until today:

A Los Angeles jury on Tuesday convicted state Sen. Roderick D. Wright on all eight counts in his perjury and voter fraud trial…
In a trial that began Jan. 8, prosecutors accused Wright of faking a move to a rental property he owned in Inglewood so he could run in what was then the 25th Senate District.
They accused him of lying on voter registration and candidacy documents and of casting ballots in five elections he was not entitled to vote in from the Inglewood address.

(Sen. Wright’s party affiliation is actually mentioned in the second paragraph, which I trimmed for space reasons.)

Random notes: January 22, 2014.

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena!

He is the walrus, goo goo a joub.

Is Gary Kasparov trying to buy the presidency of the World Chess Federation?

Two months earlier, Kasparov and Leong negotiated a deal in which Leong would help Kasparov’s presidential run in exchange for $500,000, according to a draft contract reviewed by The New York Times. Kasparov also agreed, after his election, to open a new federation office in Singapore, to be run by Leong, for which he would be paid an undisclosed amount.

“Leong” is Ignatius Leong, who lives in Singapore and is the current general secretary of the federation. He serves under the current president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who is also running for re-election to the federation presidency. Kasparov’s spokespeople say that draft contract has been superseded. But if Kasparov is trying to buy the office, would that be a bad thing? In the last election

…Ilyumzhinov, who has been president of the federation since 1995, defeated Karpov, 95 to 55. Much of Ilyumzhinov’s support came from Asia and Africa, and many votes were cast by proxies.

(“Karpov” is Anatoly Karpov. You know, the former world champion and the Karpov who played Kasparov.)

And this is interesting:

Ilyumzhinov was, by any measure, a strange choice. He was a businessman who was born in Kalmykia, an impoverished Russian republic on the Caspian Sea, and amassed a fortune after the fall of the Soviet Union, though exactly how and how much are something of a mystery. He was largely unknown within the chess world, though he had been elected president of Kalmykia in 1993, at age 31. He stepped down from that presidency in 2010.

So he’s an ex-politician who went into chess?

Ilyumzhinov is well known for his eccentricities. He has said that he believes the game was invented by extraterrestrials, and he claims to have been abducted by aliens in yellow spacesuits on the night of Sept. 17, 1997. He built Chess City, a huge glass dome surrounded by a housing development, in Kalmykia’s obscure and inaccessible capital, Elista, and had the federation hold championship tournaments there.

Ilyumzhinov was also tight buddies with the late unlamented Muammar Qaddafi.

You’re going down in flames, you tax-fattened hyena! Part deux.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas acknowledged Tuesday that a taxpayer-funded project to install a security system in a converted garage at his home involved improvements “over and above” that job, but said he reimbursed the county for the upgrades.
The Times had disclosed that county-paid crews worked at the supervisor’s Leimert Park home for a week and replaced the garage’s interior walls, installed electrical wiring and equipment, and put in appliances, including a wall-mounted air conditioner and heater and a television.

How the Statesman got scooped on the Wendy Davis story. (No paywall.)