Archive for the ‘journalism’ Category

The Union-Leader’s Same-Sex Marriage Avoidance Policy and its Connection to Other Anti-Gay Actions

October 25th, 2010 2 comments

The Manchester Union-Leader has long positioned itself on the far right of American journalism. Nonetheless, I was startled to read this statement from the paper’s publisher, Joseph W. McQuaid:

This newspaper has never published wedding or engagement announcements from homosexual couples. It would be hypocritical of us to do so, given our belief that marriage is and needs to remain a social and civil structure between men and women, and our opposition to the recent state law legalizing gay marriage.

That law was not subject to public referendum and the governor (John Lynch) who signed it was elected after telling voters that he was opposed to gay marriage. Indeed, in no state where the public has been allowed a direct vote on the subject has gay marriage prevailed.

We are not “anti-gay.” We are for marriage remaining the important man-woman institution it has always been.

While the law sanctions gay marriage, it neither demands that churches perform them or that our First Amendment right to choose what we print be suspended. In accordance with that right, we continue our longstanding policy of printing letters to the editor from New Hampshire citizens, whether or not they agree with us.”

McQuaid is of course correct about the paper’s First Amendment rights, and it doesn’t appear that the state’s anti-discrimination law applies here. (He needs a quick refresher on representative democracy, though.) But why is he doing this? Is he concerned about losing subscribers if the Union Leader dared publish wedding announcements for same-sex couples? Does the law so offend his sense of justice and the natural order of things that he’s willing to take this drastic step? Some combination of the two?

I don’t know, and I really don’t care. What I do know is that McQuaid’s grown offspring should be concerned about the man they’re allowing to spend time with their kids. In this piece of home-spun treacle, McQuaid acts as though he’s never spent time with kids before. Maybe he hasn’t (that’s what wives are for, perhaps), and his grandsons — who will grow up in a world where LGBT folks are increasingly recognized as citizens and as members of the human community — are ill-served by spending much time with such a homophobe. (Aside: the protesting statement that the paper isn’t “‘anti-gay,'” with the term itself enclosed in ironic quotes, suggests that McQuaid and his paper think there’s no such thing as a homophobe.)

[Update: I commented on McQuaid’s piece this morning, but the paper didn’t run it, even though it complies with all of their guidelines. The publisher, despite his comments to the contrary in the piece I referenced, apparently isn’t interested in publishing critical comments.]

At least this position should provide comfort to people like Amy Wax. Participating in a same-sex marriage debate on the Federalist Society’s webpage, the Penn law professor ended her list of objections by writing:

Finally (and this is in some ways the most important concern for me, as a parent), legalizing homosexual marriage will of course create pressure to “normalize” those relationships in all contexts. (emphasis added)

Don’t worry, Prof. Wax. McQuaid and his entire paper have resisted. You can, too! While you’re doing so, please explain — to your kids, “as a parent” — why my relationship and family, which includes twin daughters adopted from right here in Philadelphia, is less worthy of respect and legal recognition than yours.

I’m tired of this, and it’s well past time to call these apparently moderate conservatives on the connection between their position and the horrendous treatment of LGBT youth. After David and I watched Obama’s effective anti-gay bullying video, he immediately asked the obvious, rhetorical question:

Does this mean we can get married now?

No. No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t mean that the President supports marriage equality, either. He continues to oppose it.

There’s a danger in drawing a clear, straight line from opposition to equality in, say, the military or marriage contexts and the enabling of bullying against our kids. But it’s equally simplistic to pretend that the cultural and legal background in which kids grow up doesn’t have any effect on how we — adults and children alike — treat each other, either. (In this piece, Evan Wolfson eviscerates Maggie Gallagher for her willful refusal to connect any of these dots.)

I’m going to close with (of all people) Sarah Silverman, in an effective primal scream against the anti-gay forces:

Greg Osberg and the Transformation of Media

May 29th, 2010 No comments

How will the mainstream media survive? This interview with Greg Osberg, the new CEO of the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News (and the website,, provides some thoughtful consideration as to how this might happen. It won’t be by hunkering down in what he calls the “silos” (like something called “newspapers”). That hasn’t worked, despite all of the cost-cutting and decimation of staffs. Osberg’s committed to building something new, by recognizing that news and “content” must be delivered across a wide spectrum of platforms.

But how can they get us to pay for the stuff? Think about proprietary information coming to your cellphone, aggregation of regional content on the web, the exploding success of the e-reader, to name a few. And as for ad revenue: Think about ads across a number of platforms and…3-D advertisements — don’t forget 3-D ads!

For anyone interested in the future of journalism, this Radio Times interview is worth listening to, especially for the exchange about the future of investigative journalism. That’s where most of the value’s added, and Osberg stated a firm commitment to continuing the Inquirer’s strong tradition in that regard.

Bloggers need investigative journalists, and so does a functioning democracy. Whatever journalism is going to look like in, say, 100 years, its core content needs to thrive.

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Avril 50

February 26th, 2010 No comments

The PW (Philadelphia Weekly) is a reliably entertaining, often deliberately provocative, local rag that fuses youth culture, politics, and a kind of literate F***-you attitude. This week’s issue is a cover-to-cover reminder that life is passing me by, as it sets out a quirky buffet of the city’s “hidden treasures” across an inexplicable but somehow coherent band of life. Some you have to read just because of the teaser line (“Best Place to Get Dissed by Skeletor” [a Karaoke MC at a bar]” or “Sports Figure with the Best Vaguely Pornographic Facial Hair” [I’m not going to tell you, but it’s a Phillie]), but most just make you wish you got out more often. Favorite example: Quizzo master Irish John (who really is from Belfast), who explains the rule against using an iPhone to call up answers in a no-nonsense way that we lawyers could learn from: “No Blackberries or iPhones; it’t bullshit and it’s pathetic.” Who’d cheat after that? It’s almost enough to send me back to a brick-sized, proto-phone.

There’s a lot to digest, laugh at, and put on one’s (fantasy) to-do list, so I took a few minutes to read the list a bit more thoroughly this afternoon. There’s a gay theater company (no, I didn’t even know that), and a therapy recovery group that was, insensitively and cluelessly, outed by the “PW Staff.” (Lots of furious comments in response.)  But then I noticed this: “Best Place to Get a a Hard-to-Find Magazine.” It turns out that the place, Avril 50, was only about two blocks from where I was reading, so I thought I might stop by. Since I knew the block well, I figured the place must be new. As I approached, though, the filthy awning told me otherwise.

It’s been there for 27 years, according to its icy-friendly proprietor, John Shahidi. It’s tiny and tucked between a couple of high-profile restaurants; easy to miss, I guess. Or maybe my lack of visual awareness is world-class.

What magazine would you like? Arthritis Today? It’s there. There was also a periodical I first read as Toast, which I thought showed remarkable optimism on the part of the publisher. (In this issue: “Why Can’t We Get Universal Darkness Settings?”). But wait: It was really Taost, which is about what you’d expect. Then there was The Comedians (America’s Comedy Magazine!), and the $20 dollar Eyemazing, a photo-art mag that might be the only future for printed periodicals. (It doesn’t look nearly as good on the net, but check it out anyway.) Shahidi can’t possibly be surviving on the magazines. (He also sells coffee and fancy tobaccos.) Some of these printed obscurities are backed up several issues deep, so they didn’t sell. Mother Jones, which actually might sell a few copies, cowered, unloved, in a corner, not yet removed from its binding. There are magazines sprawled in disarray to one side of the sales counter. In short, PW’s description of the place as “cozy” might be replaced by “overwhelming, claustrophobic, and unsettling.” But you should see it for yourself — you’ll be “eye-mazed” at the sheer diversity of  interests of these things called “humans” — and places like Avril 50 won’t be around much longer.

Don’t Depict, Don’t Tell

August 13th, 2009 No comments

This article showcases both the importance and the limits of law in advancing the cause of equality.  A Utah newspaper refuses to show pictures of a gay male couple  — no, wait, they don’t want to include the couple at all — in the wedding announcement section.

Even though the couple was validly married in California, and paid the fee to have the announcement included, Spectrum publisher Donnie Welch decided that, since Utah doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages, the paper’s (heretofore unknown) policy was to reject such announcements. (Do they research all announcements to ensure compliance with state law? My guess is no.) And I’ll be interested to see how the parent newspaper, the Gannett chain, responds. (Thus far, no comment has been forthcoming.) Will (can?) they overrule Welch?

I don’t see legal recourse here. You likely won’t be surprised to learn that Utah doesn’t have a law protecting gays against discrimination, so that’s out. And of course Welch is right that same-sex couples can’t marry in Utah. An antidiscrimination law would take care of this mess, tidily. As I wrote here, I wouldn’t favor a religious (or other) exemption to such a law; if anything, this kind of case shows how religion could potentially be used both as subterfuge and as litigation deterrent.

Beyond the law, there’s the larger “teaching moment” in both the couples’ effort and the paper’s response. One member of the couple, Spencer Jones (raised as a Mormon), had this to say:

I’ve thought a lot about the gay and lesbian kids who are surely all over the place in southern Utah, and maybe it’s gratuitous on my part, but they need to see this announcement in the paper. When I was a kid … I would have loved to have seen a picture of two guys having their life together celebrated in the paper.

The newspaper’s lesson? Not all the news is fit to print. The societally enforced closet is still closed for business, but it’s  being pried open; according to this story, about 1,000 papers now accept wedding announcements from same-sex couples.

Zeitoun — One Katrina Family’s Story

July 21st, 2009 2 comments

In the compelling Zeitoun, Dave Eggers (best known for “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius”) has created a piece of advocacy journalism that deserves to be read and discussed. I plowed straight through the first 200+ pages on Sunday night, stopping only when I simply couldn’t stay awake. Then I finished it last night, after impatiently putting the kids to bed. Positive reviews and summaries are starting to come in, and there’s a nice interview with Eggers over at Salon.

This non-fiction work chronicles the lives of Abdulrahman and Kathy (nee Delphine) Zeitoun, a Muslim couple living in New Orleans in 2005, when the city was brought down by Hurricane Katrina.

Eggers masterfully sketches out the successful but somewhat plain lives of the couple in sympathetic detail, using the lead-up to Katrina for descriptions of and digressions into:  their successful contracting business; Abdulrahman’s ancestry and childhood in Syria (including a lavish description of his aquaphobic father and his late brother, who became arguably the greatest ocean swimmer in the world); Kathy’s Christian upbringing and her conversion to Islam; and, most significantly, the couple’s loving relationship and their warm family (including Kathy’s son from a brief, early marriage and the couple’s three daughters).

Like any good documentary work, Zeitoun ties the joys, stress, travails and humiliations of the Zeitoun family to the larger issues of our collective national failure during and after Katrina. (The story doesn’t dwell on the failures that allowed Katrina to devastate the city; for that, see this and this.)  As was typical when severe hurricane warnings were posted, Kathy and the kids evacuated the city while Abdul remained behind to protect their home and the many rental properties the Zeitouns owned and managed. The book effectively cross-cuts between Kathy’s odyssey (involving nasty relatives, interminable traffic, and — finally — escape to her best friend’s home in Phoenix) and Abdulrahman’s heroism and subsequent incarceration.

After the flood, Zeitoun (as he’s mostly called) used his canoe — which he’d bought for no real reason some time ago, but now saw as providential — to rescue people who might otherwise have drowned, and to feed dogs who would otherwise have starved. Eggers effectively reflects Zeitoun’s own sense that he was meant by God to stay, and that his actions were heroic (although Zeitoun would never have used that word himself). Yet from the start, Zeitoun and other residents are treated as annoyances by the very government rescuers who were supposed to be helping them.  At one point, two government speed boats zoom past the canoe, almost capsizing it and ignoring his plea to stop. In another inexplicable incident, Zeitoun is unable convince government workers to do anything to rescue an elderly couple that will surely otherwise drown. (Zeitoun and a friend are forced to return and improvise a risky strategy of their own.) Yet for the first two-thirds of the book, the reader is somehow buoyed (sorry!) by the can-doism of Zeitoun and his fellow residents (especially Todd Gambino, who might have rescued as many as 200 people).

Then the book turns dark. Kathy can no longer contact her husband, and, assuming him dead, falls apart by degree (It can’t get worse than this, she thinks.). But Zeitoun isn’t dead; he’s been imprisoned. Zeitoun and others (including Gambino) captured in a house that Zeitoun owned were arrested, placed in a makeshift prison at the New Orleans Greyhound station, and then transferred to a maximum security prison. For almost three weeks, Zeitoun was given no reason for the arrest (there were unofficial statements that he and one of his fellow prisoners “were al Qaeda”), not arraigned, and not even allowed to make a phone call to his wife. The conditions in the prisons made sleep or comfort almost impossible. Despite severe and disabling pain, he was never granted access to a doctor. He was given food (pork) that he couldn’t eat. This is the man Kathy found after those three weeks:

“He looked like a different man, a smaller man, with longer hair, almost all of it white….He’s so small, she thought….She could feel his shoulder blades, his ribs. His neck seemd so thin and fragile, his arms skeletal. She pulled back, and his eyes were the same — but they were tired, defeated. She had never seen this in him. He had been broken.”

Why, though?

The reasons for the treatment of Zeitoun and thousands of others (Gambino spent five months in prison, and after charges were dropped, never recovered over $2,000 that had been taken from him) are complex, but a few realities emerge:

Once FEMA was made subordinate to Homeland Security, the focus — even in a situation that was clearly a natural disaster and not a terrorist strike — changed from public health and emergency management to law enforcement. Homeland Security had thought through how terrorists might exploit the aftermath of a natural calamity and then, doubtless fueled by hysterical media reports about looting, rape and murder, worried less about rescue and provision of basic services than crime prevention. Consider the construction of the emergency prison and the vast amount of time and money that went into it; this isn’t what one does in regard to a public health catastrophe. (See pages 236-237 for a vivid account of this issue.) As Professors Wendy Mariner, George Annas and Wendy Parmet state in a recent article: “Since September 11, 2001, emergency preparedness policies have shifted their focus from public health to national security….[T]his shift is both contradictory and ineffective.” Zeitoun makes this point graphically.

Further, once the issue moves away from emergency management and public health to law enforcement, the potential for abuse soars. Law enforcement will avail itself of all available tools, and, given the opportunity, will come to reflect the worst prejudices of the society. Thus, it’s never entirely clear what impact Zeitoun’s Middle Eastern appearance had on his treatment (was it really all about looting? but then why no chance to explain, no chance to make a phone call?), but it is plain that his African-American cellmates were there at least in part because of their skin color and racial profiling.  This story is the worst:

“One man said he was a sanitation worker from Houston. His company had been contracted shortly after the storm to come in and begin the cleanup. One morning he was walking from the hotel to his truck when a National Guard truck pulled up. He was arrested on the spot, handcuffed, and brought to Camp Greyhound….He was in uniform, and had identification, the keys to his truck, everything. But nothing worked. He was charged with looting and put in the cages….” (pp. 258-59)

Don’t even get me started on the FEMA trailer debacle that forms a kind of slapstick sideshow to this extraordinary work. (It’s detailed on pages 308-310. Preview: a trailer is pretty much useless if you can’t get into it.)

The book concludes with a chapter about the Zeitouns’ life now. Abdulrahman is more of a workaholic than ever, seemingly trying to forget by rebuilding. And “Kathy has lost her memory. It’s shredded, unreliable.” Because of what happened to her husband, she’s become a fretting mother, afraid to allow her kids the freedom they need to develop.

The Zeitouns (especially Abdulrahman) emerge as particularly resilient, emblematic of the American optimism and capacity for reinvention that may have led this Syrian national here. Not even the Department of Homeland Security was able to crush that spirit.

By all means, buy this book. Eggers is getting none of the royalties, having committed them to various relief organizations that are spelled out at the end of the work. And it will keep you up late.

The Revolution Will Be Greened, Blogged, Tweeted…but not Televised

June 16th, 2009 No comments

I’m hopeful that my savvy and terrific webmaster can turn me green tomorrow. I always  bear in mind that we don’t know, with certainty, who won the election — but it’s clear enough for me to take the plunge in solidarity with the reformists in Iran. Fellow bloggers: Stand up and be green!(H/t Andrew Sullivan for this suggestion.)1

Another site on the events in Iran to add to those I recommended on Sunday: The sleepless Nico Pitney’s live-blog of the dreadful events is inspiring and depressing at the same time. Again, read as much as you can bear.

Pitney and Rachel Maddow engaged in a thoughtful discussion on her show tonight about the promise and perils of “citizen journalism.” In this case, of course, it’s that or nothing, as the mainstream media (“MSM”)  has been mostly blocked and silenced. This kind of on-the-ground reporting by those with a huge stake in the otucome does run the risk of amplifying and echoing one position. Pitney seemed alive to this problem, and tries to hold off blogging an event without some kind of corroboration. I don’t envy him the difficulty of his task.

  1. He removed the post for other reasons, but the idea remains a good one.

Iran Comes Apart

June 14th, 2009 No comments

After a weekend of thought about the whole DOMA/DOJ fiasco, I’d planned on writing a short summation, and the text of a speech Obama should — but won’t — give that might do for gay and straight relations what his Philadelphia race speech did for race relations .

That’s still in the works, but I’m pushing it back to tomorrow. (Look for it late in the day.) For tonight, though, I think this blog needs to show respect to the millions of Iranians who are fighting and dying in a probably doomed effort to prevent their election from being stolen. Here are few recommendations for different kinds of news sources that have been doing a great job of keeping up with the issue. These will lead you to many more, without practical end. Read as much as you can bear.

Juan Cole, an expert on Mideast relations (and  Prez of the Global Americana Institute), offers incisive and frequently updated commentary.

This New Yorker blog entry by Laura Secor makes a clear and convincing case that the election was stolen, done in the sober and persuasive style that’s the magazine’s hallmark.

Over at the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan has been a blogging madman for the last two days (even by his hyper-prolific standards), focusing almost exclusively on Iran. This blog is more in the style of “all comers,” where Sullivan reports and tries to make sense of the news, from an astounding multiplicity of sources, as it comes over the transom. The Dish imparts the chaos of the unfolding situation, chillingly. He and his staff must be exhausted by now.

The New York Times’s coverage explains how it can get away with charging $2/paper ($6 for  the Sunday Times). Both the “mainstream” and blog (“The Lede“) stories have been predictably first-rate.

There are many more.

In the long arc of history, this situation is a good thing. But people being beaten and killed might have trouble keeping that in mind. We should salute their courage.

Floating Like a (Meta)Butterfly

March 22nd, 2009 1 comment

If MTV’s Celebrity Death Match were brought back,* here’s how the tilt between Jon Stewart and Tucker Carlson would go:

Carlson, by dint of his superior nastiness and single-mindedness, gets hold of Stewart and seemingly strangles the life out of him –  but then the audience descries a wavering, astral being slowing descending over the oblivious Carlson. With ironic detachment, Meta Stewart reaches over Carlson’s head and pulls off his bowtie, opening a gaping hole in Carlson’s neck and causing his life force to escape (accompanied by unearthly screams, of course).

(*BTW, if you still pine for the days when MTV ran videos, I’m here to tell you that they were not as good as you remember. One word: Kajagoogoo. (Not Lady Gaga.) Through some horrible warp in the space-time continuum, they have apparently reunited.)

This imaginary joust is but barely removed from the real thing. In response to Stewart’s by-now famous flaying of CNBC blatherer Jim Cramer, the remnants of Tucker Carlson lashed into Stewart, labeling him a partisan hack and, succumbing to the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, (loosely, “since one event followed another, the second event must have been caused by the first”) accused the comedian of attacking Cramer only because  CNBC had criticized Obama’s budget. His anger barely under control, Carlson expanded his criticism, calling Stewart “sanctimonious” and saying that it was only a matter of time before he became “unfunny.”

But the problem for Carlson and for all of Stewart’s defeated adversaries is that he is funny, and in a very smart way. Can you watch the endless news cycle the same way after seeing The Daily Show’s withering cut-and-paste of countless talking heads, all parroting the same pablum? The media empire stands stripped, and Stewart’s meta-take on the whole shebang is ascendant.

When it comes to Carlson, the image of nakedness is closer to literal, because Stewart stripped him of his faux gravitas some time ago. Watch and listen to this video (from 2004); note how the bow tie stands in for what’s wrong with Carlson (et al.). Stewart might as well as torn it from his neck —  except that he didn’t need to.

Today, Carlson is at the margin and Stewart at the center: not only or even mostly because Stewart’s politics are Zeitgeist-ier than Carlson’s, but because of Stewart’s ability to tack between the wide-angle lens of ironic (and often hilarious) observation and the occasionally serious attack. He probably can’t do the attack stuff too often, but so far his instincts have been spot-on. And this infuriates people like Carlson; especially Carlson, who, as the following clip shows, isn’t even allowed to wear his bow tie any more. (Would you?)

Well, at least Carlson is willing to take on the sacred cow, as he self-congratulatorily (what an adverb!) notes. Too bad he’s the worst messenger for it, what with being angry at losing his bowtie, and all….

The End of Journalism

March 19th, 2009 No comments

Driving home last night, I heard the antepenultimate (there’s a word best avoided!) installment of the NPR show “News and Notes.” The show, which alone among the network’s shows features an African-American point of view, is a casualty of the economic crisis. And I don’t understand the decision to cancel the show, given that many of the network’s other shows have a remarkable sameness to them.

Not surprisingly, the guests — a roundtable of bloggers — were discussing future outlets for their work. This conversation reminded me that we in the blogosphere will do fine (for awhile) in the rapidly changing world of information. But we are essentially bottom feeders, remora fish (“aggregators” is apparently the approved euphemism) scrounging for tidbits that the mainstream news has introduced, relying for our nuggets on reporting from other sources. Even the best and most well-known blogs, such as the Huffington Post and Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish, largely rely on primary sources turned up by front-line journalists, usually of the print variety. But what will become of us when these sources disappear?

The question is hardly academic. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer just printed its final issue; the “paper” is now available only on-line. I recently received an e-mail from The Nation asking for a contribution so that the magazine can stay afloat,  and continue to do the kind of investigative reporting for which it’s become famous (or  infamous, depending on your politics). Even the venerable New York Times is in danger, as detailed in a perceptive article by Michael Hirschorn in the January/February issue of The Atlantic. (Since  that story, the Times has entered into a complex real estate transaction involving its building that provided a cash infusion and a temporary reprieve.)

It’s not as though these problems can be “solved” simply by moving these publications on-line. Advertising can’t be sold at high prices in cyberspace, meaning that the on-line versions of papers will be much thinner, economically. By way of dramatic example, the Seattle P-I is reducing its news staff dramatically, from about 150 to about 20. Under this  model, the kind of investigative reporting that the public has historically relied on newspapers to perform will not be possible.

The Philadelphia  Inquirer, Philly’s flagship paper, is also in very deep trouble.  The owner of the city’s two papers (the other is the Daily News)  recently filed for bankruptcy, culminating a downward spiral in circulation that has changed the paper in recent years from a significant national news source to an almost exclusively regional one, with news from other places (as exotic and far away as D.C.)  now furnished by the AP, the NY Times News Service, and others. Even with these compromises and concessions, though, the Inquirer has still been able to do good local, investigative reporting, such as its multi-part expose of the city’s dreadful Department of Human Services. (The series catalyzed change and brought accountability to an agency that had too long evaded it.) Such stories won’t be possible, or at least not  in any way that I can see, once papers stop rolling.

The Hirschorn article suggests that the Times and other “brands” can survive by combining the aggregation model of  blogs with “endorsed” reporting from other places, along with some (but  how  much?)  original reporting. Maybe. I’m not  concerned about coverage of events-as-they-happen, because here’s where citizen journalists and locals can continue to expand, excite, and define the “iPhone generation” of reporting. He cites examples of first-rate citizen reporting ranging from the terrorist attacks in Mumbai to Hurricane Katrina.

What happens after that on-the-ground reporting of events is done, though? Who will have the expertise, connections, resources and inclination to do the kind of in-depth reporting that makes sense of these events? Where will we bloggers get our grist? Less self-indulgently put, how can the probing analysis that has been journalism’s obligation to democracy — its “end” — thrive in the post-print world that is surely soon to come?

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