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Scott Brown's Twitter trouble

Posted by Mark Leccese January 27, 2013 05:16 PM

BrownTwitter.jpgMost politicians delegate their Twitter account to platitude-producing staffers, all of whom excel in a genre of writing I think of as Bland Earnestness. I’m looking at you @MarkeyMemo, @JohnBoehner and @DevalPatrick.

After U.S. Sen. Scott Brown lost his bid for re-election in November, it became apparent platitude-producing staffers were no longer writing @ScottBrownMA — Brown himself had his thumbs on the keyboard.

He had a lot more free time, after all, and he tweeted about spending a weekend morning “cleaning the garage. Ugh.” He tweeted “Go Pats!!!” and “Go Celts!!!!” He tweeted about doing book signings with his tag-along little brother, Howie Carr.

As an Associated Press story in The Boston Herald reported Saturday morning, “In recent posts on Twitter and Facebook, Brown has given updates on his meals and workouts, cheered on the New England Patriots and the Boston Bruins, plugged his book signings and offered snapshots of his post-Senate home life with his wife, Gail Huff.”

Brown seemed to be having fun with Twitter, but early Saturday morning he broke one of the most important unwritten rules of social media: Never respond to a troll. On the Internet, a troll is someone who posts a message just to insult you. Trolls haunt Twitter.

On Friday morning, Brown tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing his daughter Ayla perform at Pejamajo Café in Holliston. At 6 p.m. Friday evening, Brown tweeted three words: “Yes. Get ready.” Was he responding to a question? Was the question “Are you running for Senate?”

Was the question “Are you swinging by to pick me up so we can go see Ayla sing at the Pejamajo Café?”

Ten minutes later @MattinSomerville trolled Brown with this response: “Oh we are. You have no idea how ready #MaPoli is to vote to keep you in the private sector & out of #MASen”

Brown didn’t respond until after midnight, with three tweets in quick succession:

Your brilliant Matt

Uh-oh, senator. Within a few hours, “Bqhatevwr” was one of the top ten topics on Twitter worldwide.


Manti Te’o hoax a failure by major media

Posted by Mark Leccese January 22, 2013 08:48 AM

In all the media ruckus over the story of Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o, who made up a story about the death of his girlfriend, one obvious fact has been little remarked upon: the complete failure of a surprisingly large number of elite reporters and editors to do basic journalism.

What we have here are two failures: It starts with Sports Illustrated — a magazine legendary for tight editing — looking into the face of the hoax and turning away. Once the hoax had been published and thus validated by Sports Illustrated, the rest of the American media felt no need to check Sports Illustrated’s reporting.

Then Timothy Burke, an editor at the irreverent sports website Deadspin, got an anonymous email suggesting he “check out” the story of Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend.
If you read the Deadspin story of Jan. 16, you won’t have much doubt who is behind the hoax — Manti Te’o and a young man he knows named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Read it and you’ll come to the same conclusion.

The day after Deadspin broke the hoax story, the bosses at Sports Illustrated asked the reporter and writer of its October 1 cover story, Pete Thamel, to “to give an account of his reporting” which he did in a blog post that runs to nearly 5,000 words and includes a transcript of his interviews with Manti Te’o.

It is an astonishing document. Thamel describes checking the story after his interviews in the Notre Dame campus, finding “red flags,” and then solving the red flag problem by making minor changes to his copy.

These are the three big flags and what Sports Illustrated did about them.

  1. Thamel checked the LexisNexis database for information about Lennay Kekua, the name of Te’o’s hoax girlfriend. He found nothing. He looked online for an obituary or a death notice. He found nothing. “But,” he writes, “that might be explained by the fact that she had three recent places she called home, or by her family not wanting publicity.”
  2. Te’o had told Thamel that his girlfriend had graduated from Stanford University in either 2010 or 2011 – he couldn't remember which. Thamel called a friend in the athletic department at Stanford University, who told Thamel he could not find anyone with the name Kekua in the Stanford alumni directory and added that he “thought it was odd that, on such a small campus, he’d never heard of a student dating Te’o.” Thamel, while admitting “this was the most glaring sign I missed,” simply removed any mention of Stanford University from the article.
  3. Manti Te’o told Thamel that his girlfriend had been injured in an automobile accident with a drunk driver, and it was at the hospital after the accident that doctors discovered her fatal leukemia. Thamel and the magazine’s fact-checker searched the Internet for details of this drunken driving accident and could not find a word about it. So Thamel “took the drunk driving reference out. It was just a car accident.”

Start your own hyperlocal radio station

Posted by Mark Leccese January 7, 2013 10:45 AM

In a little-noticed action just after Thanksgiving, the Federal Communications Commission opened the door for hundreds and hundreds of community groups and nonprofit organization to start hyperlocal radio stations.

Until its November decision, the FCC had prohibited low-power FM stations in urban areas. That’s why there aren’t any in the Boston area. But let’s imagine a low-power FM station in Waltham, a city of 61,000.

Think of the potential for community journalism.

Waltham had a daily newspaper, the News Tribune, until 2010, when GateHouse Media cut the paper to twice-a-week publication. A year later, GateHouse turned the paper into a weekly. Two years ago launched a news and features website in Waltham with a full-time staff of one: the editor.

GateHouse, headquartered in Fairport, New York, owns hundreds of newspapers in 21 different states. Patch, a division of AOL Inc., is headquartered in New York, New York and owns and runs more than 850 hyperlocal websites across the U.S.

A hyperlocal radio station in Waltham with a 100-watt transmitter in could reach every corner of the city. The station could use volunteers to cover School Committee and City Council meetings, the Mayors office, and all the other community events that used to be covered by the local newspapers.

In addition to news, the station could program call-in talk shows about local issues, shows featuring local music and musicians, shows about books or computers or food – all-community based. The station could even step into the space abandoned by public radio in Boston and air a daily jazz show, like WCRX in Columbus, Ohio.

Best of all, a low-power FM station in Waltham would be owned and operated by a organization or group from the community.

I’m just using Waltham as an example here — it could be any city or town.


Hunting the spectral sources who “mention” candidates

Posted by Mark Leccese December 3, 2012 09:14 AM

Over the past few weeks, The Mentioners have been busy. You know who I mean – those ghostly presences who “mention” that so-and-so should be considered a candidate for such-and-such an elective office.

In a Friday op-ed, the Globe’s Lawrence Harmon wrote that “a few names Boston’s business community” have been “bandied about” as potential candidates for mayor should Tom Menino choose not to seek a sixth term in 2013. (The piece is behind the paywall – so buy yourself a subscription already, OK?)

Among those bandied about, according to Harmon: Suffolk Construction CEO John Fish and former John Hancock Financial Services CEO David D’Alessandro. Harmon continues: “Some quasi-business types, including Convention Center Authority head James Rooney, are also mentioned casually.”

One again we spot The Mentioners, this time acting all casual. Perhaps they were dressed in old jeans, sweatshirts and ratty sneakers.

The week after the election found The Mentioners exceptionally busy. For a start, they took over the front page of the Boston Herald, teasing readers to check out the columns inside by Peter Gelzinis and Joe Battenfeld.

Gelzinis played a twist on the mentioning game. His column, headlined “For once, the council prez chase matters,” speculated the January election for Boston City Council president might be a bit more hotly contested since if Menino is unable to finish his term, the council president becomes mayor.


Pundit Prediction Scorecard: Rating 25 election oracles

Posted by Mark Leccese November 7, 2012 10:34 AM

I compiled a list of pundit predictions the day before the election using Google searches, an article by Evan Hughes at The Awl, an article by Adam Pascik at New York Magazine, and The Washington Post Outlook’s Sixteenth Crystal Ball Contest.

A pundit needed to predict the number of electoral votes for each candidate — not just a win or a loss — to be included in this scorecard. My deadline for predictions was the night before the election.

As of 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, no winner had been declared in Florida. Obama led Romney by 47,000 votes out of 8.3 million cast.

Since the pundits made their predictions based on all 50 states, for the purposes of this scorecard I need to put Florida’s 29 electors voters into either Obama’s column or Romney’s column. Obama holds a lead in Florida, so I’m putting those votes in his column only for the purposes of this scorecard.

OBAMA: 332 Electoral College votes
ROMNEY: 206 Electoral College votes

Not one of the 25 pundits got it exactly right, but some came close and some appeared to have made their predictions by examining chicken bones and the position of the stars. Here are the results, which I have sorted into categories.

DELUSIONAL (wrong by more than 100 electoral votes)

Dick Morris: “On The Hill” column in The Hill, Oct. 30: Romney 325 (wrong by 119)

George Will, on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Nov. 4.: Romney 321 (wrong by 115)

Glenn Beck,, Nov. 5: Romney 321 (wrong by 115)

Michael Barone, Washington Examiner, Nov. 2: Romney 315 (wrong by 109)

Jim Cramer, host of CNBC’s “Mad Money,” Nov. 3: Obama 440 (wrong by 108)

Newt Gingrich, on FoxNews, Oct. 25: Romney “300 plus” (wrong by 100 "plus")

NOT EVEN CLOSE (wrong by 50-99 electoral votes)

Larry O’Connor, Editor-in-Chief at Breitbart.TV, Nov. 5: Romney 295 (wrong by 89)

Kevin Eder, Media Research Center, Nov. 4: Romney 281 (wrong by 75)

Karl Rove, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 31: Romney 279, “probably more” (wrong by 73 and “probably more”)

David Wiegel, political reporter,, Nov. 4: Romney 276 (wrong by 70)

Dean Chambers,, Nov. 5: Romney 275 (wrong by 69)


Too many stories and useless speculation about political polls

Posted by Mark Leccese October 22, 2012 08:04 AM

All models are wrong, but some are useful.
— George E.P. Box, past president of the American Statistical Association

As I write this, a search of my Twitter timeline for “poll” turns up seven tweets about six different polls, including a teaser tweet from CNN for a poll about to be released — in just the past hour.

The media’s and the political blogs’ reporting of polls — and speculation about what they mean — has been more pervasive and inescapable this year than in an election I’ve ever seen, even though no one knows what these polls mean for the election.

On Friday afternoon, the “Latest Election Polls” page on the website RealClear Politics had four new national general election polls posted. Here are the results of those polls:

  • Obama +3

  • Obama +2

  • Tie

  • Romney +6

Confused? The CBS News website assumes you are, and published a piece Friday headlined “Confused by all the polls? Pollsters explain the variation.” It doesn’t help.

Not only are we being showered with words and more words (and charts that may or may not be meaningful) about each and every poll that’s released, we’re presented with a daily parade of stories, blog post and tweets about the averages of a bunch of polls and statistical models (whose methodology is not made clear) built from polls and other factors: RealClear Politics Poll Averages, the CNN Poll of Polls, HuffPost Pollster, the Talking Points Memo Poll Tracker, and the most influential of them all, the New York Times' FiveThirtyEight blog.

This can lead to some silly journalism. The website Business Insider ran a story on Friday about the RealClear Politics Poll Averages showing Obama up by 0.1 percent with the headline “WAIT! Obama Has Re-Taken The Lead In An Average Of National Polls.”


Howie Carr says Mitt Romney is a phony

Posted by Mark Leccese October 16, 2012 11:27 AM

“Howie on Warren’s House of Lies” shouted the front page on Sunday’s Boston Herald, and “house of lies” did duty as a heavy-handed pun: Howie Carr’s column featured a comparison (and photos) of Warren’s and Republican Senator Scott Brown’s houses.

He opens the column by writing that Warren “is now portraying herself as the tribune of the middle class,” and, in the next paragraph, that she “is not middle class. She is a snob’s snob, a 1-percenter from way back. There is only one Scrooge McDuck-like plutocrat in this fight, and it’s not Scott Brown.”

He ends the column by asking: “Does Massachusetts really need a senator who’s even phonier than John Kerry?”

Mocking Warren for being a “phony” because she puts herself forward as “a tribune for the middle class” is a sophisticated metaphor: The Free Online Dictionary defines “tribune” as “an officer of ancient Rome elected by the plebeians to protect their rights from arbitrary acts of the patrician magistrates.”

Carr is a smart man (he got his education at the boarding school Deerfield Academy and at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was Phi Beta Kappa) and, in “tribune,” Carr found the perfect word for his argument against Warren.

I follow his logic: If you’re rich, you can’t be a tribune for the middle class, and if you say you are, you’re a phony.

Follow his logic a little further, and what Carr is asserting is that all of the following very wealthy people are phonies: Mitt Romney, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, Al Gore, George H.W. Bush, Keith Olbermann, and Rush Limbaugh.


Watching the post-debate TV analysts

Posted by Mark Leccese October 4, 2012 12:08 AM

I spent an hour after last night’s debate flipping through the news networks for the part of a presidential debate that matters most: what the post-debate analysts said.

It took just about that long for the conventional wisdom — that Romney won big — to develop. Here’s how it happened.

10:34 CNN — Pretty much as soon as the candidate handshakes and family cheek kisses are over, Wolf Blitzer says Romney “held his own” and wonders why Obama never attacked Romney.

He throws it to Candy Crowley, who says: “Mitt Romney will be very pleased with this night. If you look at the Twitterverse, you’ll see a lot of Democrats who think the president seemed a little listless here.”

10:34 FoxNews — Megyn Kelly: “It was an interesting dynamic to see Mitt Romney looking mostly over at President Obama when he was making his points and President Obama choosing to look over at Jim Lehrer or to look down.”

10:37 CBS — Correspondent Nancy Cordes: “Romney very energetic, probably more energetic than the president, and, most tellingly, I haven’t got a single email from the Obama campaign yet contending that the president was the winner tonight.”

The conventional wisdom is beginning to form. Obama did poorly on style.


CNN values a scoop more than simple human decency

Posted by Mark Leccese September 24, 2012 08:09 AM

Journalism ethics have been much discussed, taught, argued about and codified. I can understand why, but I’ve always believed the first word in the phrase “journalism ethics” matters far less than the second. If you want to be an ethical journalist, be an ethical human being.

The editors and producers at CNN failed to live up to a universal ethical principle, respect for families of the dead, when the network used information from the diary of the murdered Ambassador Christopher Stevens it had found in wreckage of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.

And they violated professional ethics at the same time by using information from a personal document in their broadcasts. The professional (and, by the way, legal) distinction here is simple: If CNN had found a draft of a diplomatic cable written by Ambassador Stevens to the State Department, that would be a government document. His diary — and even CNN called it a “diary” — is a private document.

The way CNN initially reported the information it found in Ambassador Stevens' private diary was misleading, to say the least. On Wednesday night’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” CNN reported information it said it got from “a source familiar with Ambassador Stevens’ thinking.” The phrase occurs at about 1:20 of this video.


Fact-checkers blurring the line between facts and meaning

Posted by Mark Leccese September 17, 2012 08:28 AM

Never have journalists and “non-partisan” organizations published as much fact-checking of candidates’ speeches, TV ads and press conference statements as this election season, and for the most part the fact-checks provide a useful and valuable service to the public discourse.

Not all the time, though — only for the most part. The fact checkers too often confuse facts with context and, worse, with meaning.

Plenty of examples from the past couple of months exist, but I’ll focus on two from, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, the first and one of the most respected fact-checking organizations.

On August 31, posted an article on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s convention speech titled “Another Middle-Class Falsehood.” The piece focused on Romney’s statement that “unlike President Obama, I will not raise taxes on the middle class.” stated: “But Obama has not raised taxes on middle-income taxpayers, and, in fact, he has targeted tax cuts and credits to benefit them.”

The Republican nominee did not explain what he meant by his remarks. But some Republicans have claimed that the president’s health care law amounts to a tax on the middle class, because it imposes a penalty on those who do not buy health insurance. But, as we have written before, those arguments are overstated.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that about 3 million taxpayers earning less than $120,000 will pay an average penalty of $667 by 2016 [emphasis added].

Whether the fine for not having health insurance under Obamacare is a “tax” or a “penalty” remains in dispute. The Supreme Court of the United States, in its June 28 opinion, specifically called it a tax. Many Republicans and opponents of Obama hold the same view – they call it a tax.

For to airily dismiss this view as “overstated” is not fact checking, it is taking a political position. Facts are indisputable. What name to attach to something is not.


Boston Globe, local pundits treat plagiarism case too lightly

Posted by Mark Leccese September 10, 2012 08:33 AM

I had not intended to write about the Globe’s plagiarized August 17 editorial, even though the Boston Herald whacked me upside the head for not doing so, because I had just written two blog posts about the Fareed Zakaria plagiarism case. If you wanted to know where I stand on plagiarism in journalism you could read those.

Two things changed my mind: a segment on the regular Friday night “Beat The Press” episode of the WGBH-TV show “Greater Boston” in which the host and two guests downplayed the seriousness of the offense, and the end of the two-week suspension of the Globe staffer whom “Beat The Press” had identified as the author of the plagiarized editorial.

Emily Rooney, the host the WGBH-TV show, reported that the Globe had suspended the editorial writer for two weeks for what an Editor’s Note appended to the August 17 editorial on called “the use of material without attribution.”

Here is the entire Editor’s Note:

This editorial contained some similarities in phrasing and structure to an opinion piece by Todd Domke on The use of the material without attribution was inconsistent with Globe policies, and the Globe regrets the error.

Did the Globe editorial plagiarize? Here are the relevant paragraphs from local Republican consultant Todd Domke’s August 15 piece on titled “Double Standard For VP — If Paul Ryan Made Gaffes Like Joe Biden, He’d Be Palin-ized,” and from the August 17 editorial in the Globe headlined “Biden should apologize for ‘back in chains’ remark.” The excerpts are presented in the order in which they appear in each article.

DOMKE: Vice President Joe Biden did it again. Speaking at a Virginia rally Tuesday that included hundreds of black supporters, he warned that Republican efforts to loosen bank regulations meant, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.”

GLOBE EDITORIAL: When Vice President Joe Biden warned a Virginia rally of hundreds of African Americans that Republican efforts to loosen bank regulations meant “They’re going to put y’all back in chains,” Stephanie Cutter, Team Obama’s deputy campaign manager, said the president would have “no problem with those comments.”

DOMKE: Imagine if Paul Ryan said something so foolish and inflammatory.

GLOBE EDITORIAL: But imagine if Republican Paul Ryan uttered comments like that.

DOMKE: A similar relativity is seen in the way people view gaffes. When Biden says something foolish, liberals will continue to see it as an innocent mistake, just “Joe being Joe.”
GLOBE EDITORIAL: Liberals routinely dismiss Biden’s gaffes as the rhetorical excesses of an overly exuberant speaker — it’s “Joe being Joe.”

The sad, inevitable decline of The Boston Phoenix

Posted by Mark Leccese September 4, 2012 08:01 AM

Some time this month, The Boston Phoenix as we’ve known it for more than 40 years will cease to exist. A new publication created from the merger of Stuff Magazine and The Boston Phoenix will take its place — a glossy weekly called just The Phoenix.

The Boston Phoenix, like alternative newsweeklies around the country, has been in decline for years. The August 24 issue contained only 44 pages (not counting the “adult services” supplement) and included only three news stories and eight arts reviews. That’s thin gruel.

The question about the Phoenix has always been: “Alternative to what?” From its founding to, oh, about 10 or 15 years ago, the Phoenix — and most alternative weeklies — provided the alternative to the city’s two daily newspapers. They covered different stories, and when they covered the same story, they took wholly different approaches than the dominant dailies did.

What made the Phoenix so successful as a leading news source in Boston for so long was that it did advocacy and analytical journalism solidly grounded in fact. That requires talented reporters, and over the years the Phoenix always had talented reporters on its staff (and still does). I could reel of a roster of names, but you’d have to scroll down several screens to read them all.

Its arts section — reviews, features, listings — frequently bested the arts sections of the daily papers by a mile. And for decades the Phoenix was thick with advertising. It was the rare publication you sometimes picked up as much for the ads (what bands are coming to town? what’s playing at the movies? where can I find roommate? where can my band get a good bass player?) as for the copy.

What happened? In short, pretty much everything I talked about above, everything the Phoenix did well, is being done — sometimes better and sometimes not — by the Internet, and that includes the concert venue ads and the classifieds. I counted only 15 classified ads in the August 24 Phoenix, not counting ads for “massages and spas” and phone sex lines. I counted a total 16 total advertising pages in a 44-page paper.


Zakaria, Lehrer and journalism’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week

Posted by Mark Leccese August 20, 2012 11:55 AM

Twenty-seven percent of Americans, according to a December 2011 Gallup poll, rate the honesty and ethical standards of journalists as “low or very low.” Real estate agents and bankers (bankers?) get about the same rating.

After this past week, I’m thinking of joining that 27 percent.

Nah, I take that back. Most — I said most — reporters and editors and commentators I read and watch and know personally have high standards for honesty and ethics. Go on and shake your head, but I’ve spent my entire adult life in journalism and I’m raising my right hand to God and telling you it's true.

Still, you know what they say about bad apples, and what a triumphant week it was for bad apples. If the Gallup people called last week as asked me how I rate the honesty and ethical standards of Time and Wired magazine and CNN, I’d say, “You got any choices lower than ‘very low’?”

After serving just a week of his highly publicized one-month suspension, the plagiarist Fareed Zakaria was reinstated by Time and by CNN. Meanwhile the managing editor of Wired wanted to make clear that contributor Jonah Lehrer — who made stuff up and presented it as fact — hasn’t been grabbed by the shirt collar and tossed out of Wired’s pages for good. Wired’s editors are thinking it over. As if there’s anything to think about.

Zakaria first. Here is the crucial sentence in Time's statement about Zakaria:

We have completed a thorough review of each of Fareed Zakaria’s columns for Time, and we are entirely satisfied that the language in question in his recent column was an unintentional error and an isolated incident for which he has apologized.

And the key sentence from CNN’s statement:

We found nothing that merited continuing the suspension.

Tim Graham of the website Newsbusters first identified Zakaria’s plagiarism, and Alexander Abad-Santos of The Atlantic Wire wrote the best summary. To understand Zakaria’s plagiarism, we need to look at the relevant paragraphs in the source from which he plagiarized, a Jill Lepore article in The New Yorker, and the column he passed off as his work. The first samples are from Newbusters and the second from The Atlantic Wire. (See how easy that is, Dr. Zakaria?)


Fareed Zakaria: Another plagiarism scandal, another wrist slap

Posted by Mark Leccese August 13, 2012 08:20 AM

Those of us in journalism had barely finished wincing our way through The New Yorker’s Jonah Lehrer fabrication scandal — he had to resign in disgrace — when the eminent and ubiquitous Fareed Zakaria got caught plagiarizing.

There’s a difference: fabricators make stuff up (quotes, situations, people) and claim the fabrication is fact; plagiarists steal the research and writers of others and pass it off as their own. Lehrer is a fabricator. Zakaria is a plagiarist.

The right-wing website Newsbusters (“Exposing & Combatting Liberal Media Bias”) caught Zakaria, Time’s most visible columnist and CNN host, blatantly plagiarizing from an essay by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker published three months ago.

Zakaria quickly issued a public apology:

Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 23rd issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.

It is a full apology — no hedging, no excuses. I find it odd that he feels it necessary to say the plagiarism is “entirely my fault” without saying it was entirely his action. Perhaps the first draft of the column was written by an assistant to Zakaria and he’s trying to protect his assistant.

No matter. The column went out under his byline — he’s the plagiarist.

Time followed Zakaria’s statement with a statement of its own:

Time accepts Fareed’s apology, but what he did violates our own standards for our columnists, which is that their work must not only be factual but original; their views must not only be their own but their words as well. As a result, we are suspending Fareed’s column for a month, pending further review.

That’s it? A month-long suspension, pending further review? (CNN also suspended Zakaria, for a unspecified length of time.) As someone who worked as a reporter and editor for 30 years, my first reaction is that he should be fired, immediately.


The media loves Olympic “sports”

Posted by Mark Leccese July 31, 2012 03:16 PM

My sister, whose young daughter is already an accomplished gymnast, is going to give me an earful when she reads this, but here goes: Is gymnastics really a sport? Or is it a “sport?”

The American Heritage Dictionary (the best dictionary in the U.S.; if you don’t have one, get one) defines sport thus: “Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.”

A bar bet that you can put a stack of quarters on your elbow, snap your elbow forward and — whoa, look at that! — catch all the quarters fits comfortably into the AHD’s definition, so I guess it’s a sport.

My definition of a “sport” is a bit different: Scoring must be objective, not subjective.

I posted that opinion on Facebook yesterday and an old friend replied, “You just want all of life to be a 1972 CYO dance with a live band, Mark.”

Hey, Bill, this isn’t about nostalgia, this is about Citius, Altius, Fortius, the Olympic motto: Faster, Higher, Stronger. Nothing in there about getting more points from the South Korean judge.


WBUR, WGBH stalemated in Boston public radio war

Posted by Mark Leccese July 24, 2012 03:31 PM

Out running errands at 11:30 Saturday morning, I tuned the car radio to the always amusing “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me” on WGBH-FM. While I was in the supermarket, though, I missed part of the show.

No problem. At noon I switched over to WBUR-FM, which broadcast the same episode of the same show.

Weekdays, WBUR and WGBH each air “Morning Edition” from 6-9 a.m. and “All Things Considered” from 4-6 p.m. (Oddly, there’s a delay of about 2 second between the simultaneous broadcasts, so if you miss a word or two you can punch up the other station and catch it.) WGBH airs “Marketplace” at 6 p.m. and it’s on WBUR at 6:30.

You can listen to “The Diane Rehm Show” at 10 a.m. on WGBH and at 10 p.m on WBUR. You can listen to the “BBC World Update: at 5 a.m. on WGBH, “BBC Newshour” at 9 a.m. on WBUR and “BBC World Service” at 11 p.m. on WBUR.

In the 19 hours between 5 a.m. and midnight, seven hours are repeated between the two stations — with six hours of programming aired simultaneously. (On the weekends, both WGBH and WBUR broadcast “Weekend Edition,” “Studio 360,” “This American Life,” “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” “On the Media,” and “Radio Lab.”)

It is worth noting the six hours of drive-time overlap in the morning and the evening are not precisely the same — each station uses the time allotted for NPR affiliates during those shows to add local news.

The two station’s overlapping programming leaves me puzzled – it’s as if Kevin Cullen wrote the same column on the same day for the Globe and the Herald, or Channel 4 and Channel 5 decided to air the same newscast at the same time every morning and evening.


The media keeps calling Obama-Romney campaign “nasty” — it isn’t

Posted by Mark Leccese July 16, 2012 08:45 AM

Perhaps journalists’ most popular adjective to describe a campaign is “nasty” (“dirty” is a whole 'nother level) even when the campaign isn’t nasty. They’re doing it now, in the presidential campaign between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

Over and over again, we read and hear how “nasty” the Obama-Romney campaign is, and over and over again I wonder why reporters and editors persist in calling vigorous, contentious campaigns “nasty.”

In just the past few days, we have been assured repeatedly nasty business is afoot.

David Nakamura in The Washington Post:

The intensified hostility and persistent name-calling dominated the campaign news Friday and signaled that the presidential contest was entering a new phase, moving from relentlessly negative to downright nasty.

Jean MacKenzie on

Obama and Romney have both unleashed campaigns that are breathtakingly nasty, and not too particular as to facts.

Chris Cillizza in "The Fix" blog on

An already-nasty presidential campaign has just gotten even nastier.

Wyatt Andrews on

It's getting nasty in the presidential campaign with each side accusing the other of lying about Mitt Romney's role at Bain Capital, and Romney demanding an apology.

Get ready for Thursday’s Supreme Court media frenzy

Posted by Mark Leccese June 27, 2012 08:39 AM

Reporters, editors, producers, commentators, talk show hosts, bloggers and about a billion PR people will be setting their alarms extra early tonight: The Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on the constitutionality — in whole or in part — of the Affordable Care Act some time Thursday morning.

Here are a few things to expect in the ensuing media frenzy.

Ten minutes of confusing live TV and hysterical blogging. If you sit down someplace quiet and actually read a court decision, it isn't that difficult to understand. Supreme Court decisions are written by people who used to the lawyers, not wire service reporters, so reading a decision isn’t like reading a 500-word recap of a ballgame. But if you read carefully your can grasp the gist of the thing and its main arguments.

The news, alas, cannot wait. Reporters will flip to the last page — the part were it says something like “the judgment of the Such-And-Such Court is reversed/affirmed” — and announce what’s there. Then some other reporter or blogger will read page 7 and start talking about what that means, while some other TV reporter or bloggers will find a completely different meaning on page 7. Then the legal analysts will have at it.

Hundreds of legal analysts, all certain their interpretation of the decision is the correct one. I've never been entirely sure what qualifies someone as a "legal analyst" — a law degree seems to suffice. I would find it refreshing if one of these legal analysts would say, on live TV, "Um, look, I dunno. Give me an hour or so to read this thing a couple of times. Can someone get me a cup of coffee and a donut?"


WGBH cuts back jazz programming: No place for music on public radio?

Posted by Mark Leccese June 22, 2012 05:00 PM

Boston’s WGBH-FM announced two days ago a major cut in its jazz programming, replacing “Jazz on WGBH With Eric Jackson,” which runs Monday through Thursday nights from 8 p.m. to midnight, with more news and talk. Eric’s show will be moved to Friday through Sunday nights from 9 p.m. to midnight. Steve Schwartz’s Friday show will disappear.

The Globe story quotes the eminent jazz pianist Danilo Perez: “That’s tragic. In a culture where we are so much in need of hope and optimism, that’s what jazz is all about. As long as people listen to radio, it’s crucial to have jazz [featured] there.”

Is there no air time left for music on public radio?

WBUR-FM long ago got rid of all its music programming, save for a Saturday night salsa show. WGBH inches closer to doing the same.

I grew up listening to Eric Jackson on WGBH, and his show nurtured my romance with jazz. I still listen to his show when I’m in the car at night — I’ve been listening since I was in high school. I used to listen to Ron della Chiesa’s wonderful “Music America” in the afternoons on WGBH, but that show was trashed long ago.

WBUR, back in the 1970s and 1980s, had Tony Cenamo playing jazz at night. I used to fall asleep to his show on my clock radio. WBUR also had the inimitable James Isaacs (who can’t even get a decent Wikipedia entry) playing jazz and quirky pop.


BIO 2012 convention bars some, but not all, media from keynote event

Posted by Mark Leccese June 19, 2012 02:33 PM

The Globe reported a couple of hours ago that BIO 2012, a trade association's annual convention for the biotech industry, barred reporters from mass-circulation publications from its keynote luncheon at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center today but allowed reporters from the biotechnology trade press to attend. The event featured former U.S. Treasury Secretaries Henry Paulson Jr. and Robert Rubin.

This is one of the stupidest media bans I’ve seen in a lifetime of stupid media bans, and I’ll tell you this: If I were a member of the biotech trade press, I’d be insulted.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization’s partial media ban says to the biotech trade press: “We trust you to write what we tell you to write. You’re not really journalists, anyway, you're just an arm of the biotech industry.”

Nothing like a major organization telling the journalists who cover its members that, really, all things considered, they’re not journalists at all.

The Globe quotes BIO spokesman Jeff Joseph:

We want to ensure that our presenters are comfortable speaking openly before our paid attendees. Our goal is to try to maximize the experience for our paid attendees while ensuring all media have fair and reasonable access to our convention.

Globe, WBUR fail to fully examine Future Boston Alliance’s claim of “brain drain”

Posted by Mark Leccese June 11, 2012 09:12 AM

There is “no shortage of media buzz surrounding the Future Boston Alliance and its mission to change what it sees as the city’s stodgy reputation,” the Globe wrote in a June 7 story.

The headline on the piece tells the story: Can they make over Boston? A group of activists and entrepreneurs are determined to make the city more appealing for young professionals. And they’re prepared to step on some toes in the process.

I have no doubt the Future Boston Alliance has good intentions and sincerely wants to improve life in the Boston area for young professionals. In addition, I am not the guy to ask how that could be done — when I was last a young professional, Tyler Seguin was in diapers, and my night-life generally involves watching the news, reading with a ballgame on, and heading up to bed by 11.

It is the coverage of the Future Boston Alliance I find troublesome. A week before the Globe story, WBUR’s “RadioBoston” aired a 22-minute segment about the Future Boston Alliance and its complaints. This is how the segment began:

About 40 percent of college graduates leave the Boston region a year after they finish school. That’s according to research conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. In contrast, fewer than 20 percent of recent college graduates leave California. Brain drain represents a real challenge here.

These are trend stories about a trend the data say doesn't exist. The folks running the Future Boston Alliance are smart, articulate and media savvy, but the Globe and WBUR should have done more reporting on the data that exists — about which more shortly — to present fuller representations of whether the region is suffering from a “brain drain” and whether the Boston area is “appealing for young professionals.”


For debate, Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren agree on Jon Keller

Posted by Mark Leccese June 6, 2012 11:12 AM

Republican Sen. Scott Brown and challenger Elizabeth Warren yesterday agreed on only two things in their ongoing when-and-where-and-how-many-debates rumpus: there will be four televised debates and one debate will be on WBZ-TV, moderated by the station’s long-time political analyst Jon Keller.

No surprise there. Keller is the leading political analyst and reporter on Boston TV, known for being sharp, tough and fair. (Full disclosure: Jon and I worked together at the old Tab Newspapers in the 1980s.) He’s proven his skills as a debate moderator in some of the most important political debates of the past decade, including the 2010 Senate race, the 2008 gubernatorial race, and the 2009 Boston mayoral debate.

As for further debates — well, that’s still a point of contention between the candidate’s campaigns. Noah Bierman of the Globe reported in this morning’s paper (subscription required) that Brown and Warren “are at loggerheads over the rest of the schedule, a sign of increasing acrimony in a race that could help determine control of the Senate.”


Which paper do you read? Elizabeth Warren either “cool” to debating Scott Brown or “eager” to debate

Posted by Mark Leccese June 4, 2012 03:12 PM

Here are the headlines, on the same news item, from this morning’s Boston dailies.


Care to guess which headline came from which paper? Nah, never mind. Too easy. If you know anything about the Boston Herald and the Boston Globe, you know the answer.

Let’s look at the evidence in each story that lead the headline writers to described Elizabeth Warren as “cool” or “eager” to debate Scott Brown.

The Herald story leads with Scott Brown issuing a challenge, on Dan Rea’s WBZ-AM talk show, for “three of four” debates, including one on WBZ-AM. Herald reporter Chris Cassidy writes that Warren “said she’s not ready to commit to specifics yet.”

Keep reading the Herald story, and you find out what precisely Warren said.

Warren wouldn’t commit to the WBZ debate yesterday or to a specific number, but said she’s ready to square off.

“Hey, I’m glad he’s accepting the challenge for a debate,” said Warren, greeting locals at the Dorchester Day Parade about 50 yards away from Brown. “I am delighted to get out there and do some debates. We’ve got a lot of invitations, and we’ll get them sorted out with his campaign, and I think that’ll be great. We’ll have something set up.”

I would not call that “cool.” I would call it, as does the reporter, “ready.” The Herald reporter and editors faced a challenge they face with every story about this Senate race: How to present Elizabeth Warren in the worst possible light and Scott Brown in the best. They met the challange.

This morning’s Globe story, with no byline, credits Elizabeth Warren for being the first to call for debates.


Trackers, reporters, Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren: Get over it

Posted by Mark Leccese May 24, 2012 12:39 PM

The Globe’s Stephanie Ebbert had an interesting — and kind of fun — story in Tuesday’s paper headlined “Candidates wary as opposition cameras roll.” Here are the first paragraphs of her story:

The Haverhill VFW Post was friendly territory for Senator Scott Brown, a National Guardsman himself. Yet in the midst of his remarks to veterans this month, he stopped abruptly, distracted by a video camera in the crowd.

Brown fixed an icy gaze on the man behind the lens.

The cameraman was a video tracker for a liberal group that supports Brown’s Democratic opponent, Elizabeth Warren. His mission, as it is most days, is to track the senator’s every word, in hopes of catching an inconsistency, or better, a gaffe. The senator, too, reaps the benefits of a tracker, one assigned to follow Warren.

Brown ordered the young man out.

“Every word they’ll use in some kind of negative commercial and it’s shameful,’’ Brown later said, according to the Eagle-Tribune newspaper.

Ebbert reports that Elizabeth Warren’s campaign staff “recently barred a Republican tracker from a rented space in a community arts center in Lynn where the Democratic candidate, a bankruptcy law expert and consumer advocate, was showcasing her expertise.”

I have a question for the Senator Brown and candidate Warren: What, precisely, is your problem with someone recording your campaign appearances? These are public appearances and you are running for public office.

Another question for the Senator Brown and candidate Warren: What, precisely, would be “shameful” about a statement you made at a public event while running for public office being widely disseminated? Isn’t the point of any candidate’s media operation to get what the candidate says widely disseminated?


Candidates don’t have to answer every reporter’s question

Posted by Mark Leccese May 9, 2012 04:12 PM

With obvious indignation, the New York Times ran an item on its political blog Wednesday afternoon headlined “Asked About Gay Marriage, Romney Doesn’t Answer.”

Romney, having just finished a campaign event in Colorado, was working the rope line — political jargon for the candidate shaking hands with members of the crowd — when reporters “pressed” him, according to the Times, for a statement on gay marriage.

“Not on the rope line,” Romney told the media. The Times reported this as Romney “refusing” to answer questions.

Keep scrolling down to the bottom of the blog post, though, and you discover Romney had answered a question about his (well known) position earlier in the morning during an interview with a local television station.

Here are the final two paragraphs of the post:

Asked by Fox News’s KDVR-TV about a bill that would have allowed civil unions for same-sex couples in Colorado, which died late Tuesday night, Mr. Romney reiterated his belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman.

“Well, when these issues were raised in my state of Massachusetts,” he said, “I indicated my view, which is I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name. My view is the domestic partnership benefits, hospital visitation rights and the like are appropriate, but that the others are not.”

The Times isn’t peeved that Romney refused to answer a question about his position on gay marriage — it's that he refused to answer it at that time, at that place, to those reporters. For this, the blogger slaps him with a “refused” when “declined” would have been as accurate, along with a headline that suggests Romney wouldn’t answer a question on the day’s hot topic.

The Times reporter does deserve credit, though, for reporting that Romney had answered the question about gay marriage earlier in the day — which only makes it more irritating that the reporter should give Romney an electronic slap for not answering a similar question a few hours later.

Writing as someone who spent much of his adult life asking politicians questions, I understand a reporter’s irritation at a candidate who blows you off. You’ve got a story to write or a blog entry to post.

But nothing requires a candidate to answer every question pose by every reporter ever time the candidate appears in public. Let’s be reasonable.

The candidate does have a responsibility to the public to answer questions on every topic relevant to the campaign. But the candidate has no obligation to respond every time a reporter pipes up with a question. Each and every reporter is not the one and only proxy for the people.

Follow @mleccese on Twitter.

About the author

Mark Leccese, a journalism professor at Emerson College, covered Massachusetts politics, business and the arts for more than 25 years as a newspaper reporter, editor and magazine writer. He has More »

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