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politics

Why Do Americans Oppose the Release of Information?

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Apr 26th 2009 5:53PM

Filed Under: Politics, Boston University, Media

Matt Negin is now a contributor for The Cram, a student news arm of the newly launched PoliticsDaily.com. To follow his future work, click here.

In a new Washington Post poll, most Americans approve of Barack Obama's performance during his first 100 days in office.

But although the Post led its Sunday story with that finding, another response in the survey about the recently released torture memos is considerably more newsworthy. Apparently, 44 percent of the public disapproves of Obama's decision to release secret documents from the Bush administration detailing the interrogation of terrorism suspects. Fifty-three percent approved.

That key question also revealed a deep partisan divide, with three-quarters of Democrats backing the disclosure of the memos and just as many Republicans opposing the hotly debated move.

Why does access to more information fall along a partisan split? I was just as perplexed last year when I covered the Roger Clemens steroids-in-baseball hearing on Capitol Hill, and Democrats on the government reform committee harshly interrogated The Rocket while their Republican counterparts defended him. (I still can't figure out why, and Clemens has not been recorded by the FEC for any GOP campaign donations.)

But when did the issue of releasing information -- albeit from the secretive Bush administration about the sensitive issue of torture -- begin to irk conservatives? Shouldn't the availability of information be heralded by all, whether it be documents implicating a Democratic governor of New York in a prostitution ring or sexual instant messages between a Republican congressman from Florida and his congressional pages?

Full Article »

international newspolitics

No Handshakes Allowed, Mr. President!

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Apr 21st 2009 2:15AM

Filed Under: Politics, International News, Boston University

The president of the United States may be the most powerful person in the world, but there are still things he's not allowed to do -- like trade stocks while knowing insider information, or throw Naked Thursday dinner parties at the White House.

Now, add to those taboos shaking hands with leaders of certain countries.

It was only recently at the G-20 summit that Barack Obama was "bending his tall frame" to the king of Saudi Arabia. But on Friday, Obama shook hands with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at a summit in Trinidad and Tobago.

As the fair and balanced network Fox News objectively told us in a headline, "Handshake With Obama Belies Chavez's Contempt for America."

And Dick Cheney, who like Santa Claus apparently has a list of things that are naughty and nice, told that same award-wanting news network that the handshake "was not helpful."

Full Article »

international newspolitics

Espionage: Iran's New Word for, 'We Got Nothing'

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Apr 19th 2009 8:51AM

Filed Under: Politics, International News, Boston University, Media

It's difficult to take a country's court system seriously when it convicts defendants in secret trials. It also doesn't help when the president of that country is a Holocaust denier and suspected terrorist. And it really doesn't look professional to accuse the defendant -- a journalist -- of "espionage" without providing a single piece of real evidence.

But such is the perplexing case of Roxana Saberi, the Iranian-American reporter who was convicted of spying by Iran's shady court this week. The prosecutors accused the 31-year-old journalist of passing along secret information to U.S. intelligence agencies.

Spying is a pretty serious career choice, not to mention time-consuming. For Saberi to successfully spy on the Iranian government, she would have to maintain a cover, make contacts and stay under the radar for most of the six years that she's lived in the country (at least, according to the Spy Museum tour I took in D.C.).

So if suspected spy Saberi was supposed to lay low, why was she filing dozens of stories each month for news organizations like the BBC, NPR and Fox? In June 2007, she was on the front line in Tehran when Iranians burned down gas stations in opposition to fuel rationing. And she was on the scene when the Islamic country banned women from soccer games the year before, too.

Either Roxana Saberi is a terrible spy, or she's not a spy at all.

Full Article »

How the News Is Fooling You

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Apr 16th 2009 1:43AM

Filed Under: Boston University, Media

Conventional business theory tells us that if consumers want a product, and if they can afford it, then they'll buy it. For the best items, there's no need to trick people into thinking they should spend money on something they don't need -- like OxiClean or Snuggies.

But gone are the days of conventional business. Now, companies are experimenting more and more with a type of advertising that is at best morally questionable, and desperate at worst. That technique is the fake news story.

The best example of this appeared April 9, when an advertisement dressed as a news story appeared on the front page of the Los Angeles Times. The ad, which had the headline, "Southland's Rookie Hero," under a small NBC logo, was a plug for a TV show about police officers. But it was written as if a Times reporter had gone out and done his own reporting on the fake setting of the show. The first paragraph of the advertisement reads, in part:

"This is the story of one such day when this reporter got a chance to ride along for a rookie's unforgettable first watch."

The ad, no doubt a huge cash grab for the Times (owned by the bankrupt Tribune Co.), was boxed in its own column adjacent to a real news story. The paper's reporters, upon seeing the ad that bumped some story to Page 3, petitioned the sneakiness of the ploy and said it "has caused incalculable damage to this institution. This action violates a 128-year pact with our readers that the front page is reserved for the most meaningful stories of the day. Placing a fake news article on A-1 makes a mockery of our integrity and our journalistic standards."

Full Article »

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politics

Help Us Find the 17 'Socialists' in Congress

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Apr 9th 2009 11:33PM

Filed Under: Politics, Boston University

The witch hunt has begun.

Channeling Joseph McCarthy, one of Alabama's Republican congressmen declared Thursday that no fewer than 17 socialists are roaming the corridors of the House of Representatives.

"Some of the men and women I work with in Congress are socialists," said Rep. Spencer Bachus at a Birmingham breakfast. When asked to clarify his comments, he said he knows of 17 socialist House members, The Birmingham News reported.

This statement lets us know two things about Bachus: He believes there are socialist members of Congress, and he doesn't think socialism is very good.

But, wanting to keep the big secret to himself, he didn't give any names. So, it's time to dust off the old shoe leather and do some investigative reporting. Where can we find a group of 17 socialists on Capitol Hill seeking to undermine the American way? I did some gumshoe digging through congressional groups and found two subcommittees with exactly 17 members. Coincidence?

Full Article »

politics

Will Bright Hall Win a Pulitzer?

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Apr 8th 2009 2:48AM

Filed Under: Politics, Boston University, Media

First, to answer the question: Probably not -- but only because the Pulitzer Foundation refuses to accept blog entries.

Still, nobody knows for sure, because this year, the list of Pulitzer finalists has not been leaked. Usually, the chief of Editor & Publisher, Joe Strupp, names them on his media-focused website after Pulitzer jurors slip him the nominations anonymously. This lets journalists and readers debate over who they think deserves which prize for which scoop, and it can be fun.

Not this year. "They all shut their mouths," Strupp told Roy J. Harris Jr. on Romenesko. "It's the tightest it's been for leaks in years."

There's still about two weeks left until this year's best-in-journalism prizes are announced, and anyone and everyone is eligible. For those of you upset that March Madness is over and want to play some pick-'em games, that's what the "comments" section is for.

Here are some starters, brainstormed in the spirit of Joseph Pulitzer, a sensationalist yellow journalist who threw wild accusations around in his papers during the Spanish-American War:

Full Article »

What's Really Funny About Tribune's April Fools' Prank

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Apr 3rd 2009 3:11AM

Filed Under: Breaking News, Boston University, Media, The Economy

The bankrupt brains at Tribune Co. sure had a laugh Wednesday. After filing for bankruptcy, shrinking their papers' Washington bureaus and firing hundreds of employees across the country, Tribune thought it could make it all better with a joke.

So on April Fools' Day, they issued a press release -- accompanied by a mysteriously well-designed homepage -- that boasted the creation of something called the "Accelerator," some kind of super-communications thingy that threatens to make the Internet obsolete in a year. It uses nanotechnology, it displays holographs, it has voice recognition in every language, and it has a plutonium battery. All this (and so much more) is detailed on Tribune's release and website, which looks like it took hours, and maybe days, to perfect.

When crafting this prank, Tribune's idea men -- Sam Zell, Lee Abrams and Randy Michaels -- must have put a lot of effort into it, maybe even working overtime. Michaels, the chief operating officer, says in the fake news release that the Accelerator team "put in long hours, many of them sober. And this marvelous device is the result -- The Accelerator(TM) will mean billions in revenue, and the end of the extremely competitive advertising environment in which we've been operating."

Nobody laughed very hard upon reading this. And given Abrams's propensity for writing "think pieces" full of misspellings, ALL-CAPS DECLARATIONS and stream-of-consciousness ideas from a dream-like state, it's no surprise that the Tribune team made its highest priority for April 1 wiping out its Tribune.com website to promote a product that isn't real. (Abrams's style is not representative of the papers his company owns; in addition to not proofreading, he also doesn't check facts, which is evident in this January blast about a quote from Mariah Carey that she never said.)

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politics

The Superstitious Defense of Norm Coleman

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Mar 31st 2009 10:24PM

Filed Under: US Elections, Politics, Boston University

The Minnesota Senate race is getting closer to an end, and Norm Coleman probably won't win. A three-judge panel ruled on Tuesday that at most, 400 ballots questioned by Coleman, who is barely losing to Al Franken, can be recounted in court in about a week.

The news is great for Franken and Democrats, who are that much closer to getting 59 seats in the Senate, a very powerful number that can potentially dust off threats of Republican filibusters. But Coleman and the Republicans aren't giving up. They have raised millions of dollars to fuel the recount, delaying either senator from working on Capitol Hill.

Yet money may not be enough to win this legal battle stemming from Nov. 4, at least according to Coleman's lawyer, who suggested Tuesday that supernatural forces had something to do with the unfortunate rulings.

"We said that this court's Friday the 13th order is wrong, and now their almost April Fool's Day order is equally wrong," said attorney Ben Ginsberg, referring first to the February 13 ruling that discarded some ballot categories as grounds for recounting.

Obviously I'm no legal expert or scholar of law, but I don't think it's absurd to suggest that when the defense brings up scary bad-luck days like Friday the 13th or "almost April Fool's Day," its options may be running thin.

Full Article »

culture

If I Hear One More Thing About Teenage Vampires ...

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Mar 27th 2009 1:50AM

Filed Under: Culture, Boston University, Fiction

The elite prep students at the prestigious Boston Latin school are evidently concerned that vampires are roaming their halls.

The gossip has seeped so much, in fact, that the academy's headmaster had to send a note to everyone Thursday to quash the "rumors involving 'vampires.' "

This moral panic, the Boston Globe reported, was started when a group of girls teased a "Goth" student for being a "would-be vampire," spreading the rumor that she had sucked someone's neck blood. More childish students freaked out when the police arrived at the school for a completely unrelated incident.

Apparently, teens have been sickly obsessed with vampires since the confusingly popular book/movie "Twilight" began romanticizing the night crawlers months ago. Girls across the country had Twilight sleepovers to celebrate the movie and Robert Pattinson's budding facial hair.

Why now? Vampire literature has stacked libraries for centuries, stemming from Heinrich August Ossenfelder's 1748 erotic poem "The Vampire" and thriving in the latter half of the 20th Century with Anne Rice's popular Vampire Chronicles. Clearly there's a market out there for readers interested in secretive bat-like characters sinking their teeth into the virgin flesh of sleeping women.

(I'm more of a classic movie buff myself, preferring the likes of Teen Wolf to silly unrealistic fantasies. But I digress.)

Just as we thought the fake-literature fad spurred by Harry Potter was finally ebbing, here comes another book about magic, or the undead, or something. Suddenly, thousands of teenage (and college) girls who hadn't had anything to read since the Deathly Hallows were racing to Borders to buy, of all things, a vampire romance story pretending to be a book.

Full Article »

politics

Since When Do Politicians Care About Newspapers?

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Mar 24th 2009 11:36PM

Filed Under: Politics, Boston University, Advise & Dissent, Media, The Economy

Animated disagreement between coworkers is a venerable tradition often denied to Bright Hall's far-flung, break room-less staff. Advise & Dissent is an attempt to fix that. Click here for past debates, and click here to read Tony Romm's argument against nonprofit newspapers.

The difference between a newspaper and a press release from a senator's office is that the first usually contains the whole, objective truth, and the latter is full of spin and bias.

So it may be striking some political and media observers as odd that politicians have begun lining up to offer federal help to print journalism. The latest effort comes from Senator Benjamin Cardin, who on Tuesday introduced a bill that would allow newspapers to get a bunch of tax breaks if they work as nonprofits.

There is a catch, though -- they would be barred from political endorsements on their editorial pages.

Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland, said his effort is aimed at helping local papers, not big conglomerates that also dabble in TV and radio. Unprecedented numbers of newspapers big and small are on the verge of disappearing, and many have already declared bankruptcy or stopped printing -- like the Rocky Mountain News and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

The cause is a deadly cocktail that is part terrible economy and part old business model, which relies almost solely on advertisements, which have been steadily declining for years.

"We are losing our newspaper industry," Cardin said. "The economy has caused an immediate problem, but the business model for newspapers, based on circulation and advertising revenue, is broken, and that is a real tragedy for communities across the nation and for our democracy."

Full Article »

international newssportsculture

Japan, Without Steroids, Is Baseball's Best

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Mar 24th 2009 9:14AM

Filed Under: Culture, International News, Sports, Boston University

TOKYO -- At 6 feet 3 inches, and only 169 pounds, right-hander Hisashu Iwakuma kept the Koreans at the plate for most of the game.

On the offensive side of Japan's lineup and earning his spot as the championship's hero was Ichiro, who at 5 feet 9 inches and 160 pounds drove in two runs with an up-the-middle line drive after a patient, samurai-like at-bat.

There is no denying that Japan is likely the skinniest baseball team not only to win the World Baseball Classic (twice in a row), but probably to even play in it. Coming from a country whose main foods are noodles and fish, most of these players would probably scoff at the notion that injecting their bodies with steroids would make them better athletes.

As if somewhat proving this point, Japan firmly manhandled the United States in the semifinals, 9-4, like a horde of miniature players overtaking a country that boasts baseball as its national pastime. But in truth, there is no country that loves baseball more than Japan.

At the crack of Ichiro's swinging bat as it drove the ball into center field, bringing two runs home in the top of the 10th inning yesterday, the room full of some 40-odd Japanese students I was in erupted in riotous cheers. "Pressure's on, Korea!" one student yelled.

Full Article »

politics

This Again? Some Still Claiming Media's Obama 'Swoon'

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Mar 23rd 2009 1:44AM

Filed Under: US Elections, Politics, Boston University, Media

Kevin Ferris's op-ed today titled "Media's swoon over Obama" even reached the commentary pages of Japan's largest newspaper, The Daily Yomiuri, where I first read it. I wonder how many other people took it seriously.

Ferris, an editorial page editor for the Philadelphia Inquirer, uses a new documentary about campaign coverage to rehash the old argument that during the 2008 race, "the media let us down in nearly every respect."

Fine. Let's hear what you've got to say.

Pointing to a spot in the anti-Obama, anti-media documentary by John Ziegler, Ferris rages over how it is the fault of "the media" that lots of facts about Sarah Palin stuck with voters, while many facts about Barack Obama did not. He notes how voters remembered Palin's expensive wardrobe, Bristol's pregnancy and Tina Fey's impersonation. But "what didn't sink in" about Obama was, according to Ferris/Ziegler, his "background in Chicago politics, his association with domestic terrorist Bill Ayers."

Never mind that referring to Obama's "background in Chicago politics" is too vague to mean much. Do these men really think that the American public didn't hear enough about Bill Ayers? I can still hear Palin's sound bites in my head from every stump speech she gave referring to Obama "palling around with terrorists."

The anti-media, anti-Obama crowd is apparently still seething over its claim that the mainstream media didn't cover Obama's relationship with Ayers. Is that so? What about this front-page New York Times article titled, "Obama and '60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths," that ran above the fold a month before the election? Don't forget the Times's story the very next day, called, "Palin, on Offensive, Attacks Obama's Ties to '60s Radical."

Full Article »

politics

Wow, Obama Made a Joke on a Joke Show. Get Over It.

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Mar 20th 2009 10:58AM

Filed Under: Politics, Featured Stories, Boston University

Way to break a leg, chief.

Anyone cruising around on the Drudge Report this morning got a glimpse of a grainy image of Barack Obama bowling, above the headline "GUTTER BALL." The jab is a reference to Obama's comment on The Tonight Show that his new bowling score of 129 is "like Special Olympics or something."

Now critics are jumping all over Obama's quip, even after a spokesman hastily dished out a statement in defense saying that the president "made an offhand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics."

And apparently, before Obama's appearance even aired on television, the president called the Special Olympics chairman from Air Force One and apologized for being funny.

"He was very sincere, expressed an interest and an openness in being more engaged in the movement, and said he was a fan of the movement," chairman Tim Shriver said on Good Morning America, " and I think importantly he said he was ready to have some of our athletes over to the White House to bowl or play basketball or help him improve his score."

So much for wanting a president we can relate to. Raise your hand if you've never made a joke about the Special Olympics.

Anybody?

Full Article »

politics

The Huffington Post: Whose Side Are They On?

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Mar 19th 2009 8:32AM

Filed Under: Politics, Featured Stories, Boston University, Media, The Economy

Chris Dodd, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, yesterday admitted to his role in allowing AIG to pay its executives bonuses with taxpayer money. He told CNN that he was responsible for adding language to the stimulus bill that would allow such contracts to retain their legality, despite saying Tuesday that he had nothing to do with the language.

The news isn't great for Dodd, who is already stumbling in his home-state polls. But one place you'd never suspect that is The Huffington Post.

The Huffington Post -- or "HuffPo" -- has long been a Democrat-friendly news aggregator and blog hub, known for its screaming, all-caps banner headlines pertaining to the issue du jour. So yesterday, following Dodd's admission, the Huffington Post decided to instead put the blame on the Federal Reserve.

"WHOSE SIDE ARE THEY ON?" HuffPo asked, above the more specific headline, "Fed Failed To Tell Obama About AIG Bonuses." That second statement has certainly been a talking point from the White House, which has insisted that Barack Obama did not know about the bonuses until just before the public found out.

That's not all, though. Below the website's main picture of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, the AIG building and Obama, another sub-headline reads, "Dodd: Treasury Insisted On Weakening Bonus Provision," again playing to the Democrat's spin that he was pressured by the administration to add the language to the stimulus bill.

This should not be a surprise to many people, and this is by no means the first time such selective headlining has appeared in the Huffington Post. Yet with nearly 8 million visitors per month, the Huffington Post is trailblazing the way for online opinion molding.

Full Article »

politics

Somebody Bring Wall Street a Big Chocolate Cake

Matt Negrin

Posted:  Mar 18th 2009 9:34PM

Filed Under: Politics, Boston University, The Economy

It seems to me that the stock market is like a bipolar kid at a birthday party. At any point he could be wailing and running around, knocking over lamps and chairs, or he could be perfectly complacent while he eats ice cream.

The difference is instead of lamps breaking, people lose millions of dollars.

Sometimes the peaks and valleys in the Dow Jones index make about as much sense as a Jackson Pollock painting, and even financial experts are befuddled. Last week, the Dow -- a composite mix of 30 "indicator" stocks -- inexplicably jumped nearly 6 percent in one day.

Why? Nobody knows. Some said it was because investors were itching to buy stocks and leaped at the first signs that the day's market wasn't dropping dramatically. Maybe traders were scanning the news looking for just a glimmer of hope, such as Citigroup's CEO announcing a profit in the first two months of the year. Citigroup's shares rose a remarkable 38 percent that day, even though the CEO's comments weren't entirely meaningful because they didn't reflect a full quarter of business.

The point is that stock market trading is almost entirely psychological. Investors take risks when they feel good and draw stalemates when in lousy moods. If something as superficial as monitoring Google News for company highlights can lift the market to record heights for no material reason, surely there's a better way to revive the economy than hoping that companies begin making profits.

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