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Concern Over Sean Taylor Coverage

November 27, 2007

Black Sportswriters Fear Stereotypical Narrative

The shooting death of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor has left some African American sportswriters concerned that coverage by their predominantly white colleagues will unfairly emphasize negative aspects of Taylor's past.

Tuesday's newspapers went to press while Sean Taylor, 24-year-old safety for the Washington Redskins, was still alive. He died in Miami about 5:30 a.m.
"The one thing that I have found today from listening to talk radio and reading columnists/bloggers views on this matter is this," the Boston Globe's Gregory Lee, who chairs the Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists, wrote to his colleagues on Tuesday:

"Don't speak or write on things you don't know. What I mean by that is often times when sports turns into social issues, most don't get it and don't have the background to speak about it. The only thing they can go off is stereotypical images of rap videos or watching New Jack City."

Taylor, 24, died Tuesday after he was shot in his home by an apparent intruder, "leaving the Washington Redskins in mourning for a teammate who seemed to have reordered his life since becoming a father," the Associated Press reported.

The AP story continued, "An All-American at the University of Miami, Taylor was drafted by the Redskins as the fifth overall selection in 2004. Coach Joe Gibbs called it 'one of the most researched things' he'd ever done, but the problems soon began. Taylor fired his agent, then skipped part of the NFL's mandatory rookie symposium, drawing a $25,000 fine. Driving home late from a party during the season, he was pulled over and charged with drunken driving. The case was dismissed in court, but by then it had become a months-long distraction for the team.

"Taylor also was fined at least seven times for late hits, uniform violations and other infractions over his first three seasons, including a $17,000 penalty for spitting in the face of Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman during a playoff game in January 2006.

"Meanwhile, Taylor endured a yearlong legal battle after he was accused in 2005 of brandishing a gun at a man during a fight over allegedly stolen all-terrain vehicles near Taylor's home. He eventually pleaded no contest to two misdemeanors and was sentenced to 18 months' probation.

"Taylor said the end of the assault case was like 'a gray cloud' being lifted. It was also around the time that Jackie was born, and teammates noticed a change."

Those paragraphs, and others like it, did not sit well with members of the NABJ Sports Task Force. "There's a problem I've been having with reporting on Sean Taylor and I'm leaning to being annoyed on a moral level more than anything else," Zuri Berry, sports reporter at the Union in Grass Valley, Calif., wrote.

"The story AP has sent out is only as long as it is because it provides a laundry list of transgressions Taylor had that I simply feel are not important for this particularly tragic event. I mean, there's obviously a list out on everybody that's done anything wrong, waiting to be attached to the person's next scandalous story. Well there's no scandal here, just tragedy. And I feel that Taylor's memory right now is being done a disservice for rehashing that 'Taylor also was fined at least seven times for late hits, uniform violations and other infractions over his first three seasons, including a $17,000 penalty for spitting in the face of Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman during a 2006 playoff game.'

"Excuse me if I wonder out loud, what the hell does this have to do with him being shot. Mind you, this isn't an obit, this is breaking news."

Justice B. Hill, senior writer with MLB.com, compared the coverage with that of Ronald Reagan. "Last night, I read Leonard Pitts' column on Ronald Reagan. Pitts wrote the piece in April 2004, and he called out journalists for painting this overly flattering a picture of Reagan on his death," Hill said.

Sean Taylor
"In concluding his column, Pitts wrote: 'The media have sold us a fraudulent version of history. Everybody loved Ronald Reagan, it says.

"'Beg pardon, but "everybody" did not.'

"I would have no problem with the coverage of Sean Taylor if, in fact, what the media did to Taylor was consistent with how they deal with others in his circumstance. To suggest that black men like Taylor aren't dealt with unfairly in the media is to embrace the idea of mermaids as real or that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction."

Another writer singled out Leonard Shapiro of the Washington Post, who wrote a piece on the Post Web site headlined, "Taylor's Death Is Tragic but Not Surprising."

"Certainly it would be terribly easy to rush toward some sort of instant judgment based on what we think we all knew about Taylor and the sort of life he once, and for all we know, still led," Shapiro wrote. "But really, we know nothing at the moment, and until we do, 'may he rest in peace' ought to be the operative phrase for this day."

However, the next sentence was, "Still, could anyone honestly say they never saw this coming?"

Wrote Jemele Hill of ESPN.com: "Before Taylor died, I intended to write a column about how the tenor of reporting seemed to be, well what do you expect? Look at all the trouble he got into.

"It's not like Taylor was out at the club, or at the wrong place, wrong time. If the police thought his past troubles were related to his murder, then I understand it. But it seems as if this is being framed as, he got what was coming to him, when he'd been trouble-free for some time. Maybe I'm being oversensitive, but I just have a hard time believing that if Brett Favre got shot, there would be grafs about his personal drug abuse issues."

Hill wrote her own column, noting, "Studies conducted in 2006 at Columbia, Princeton, Harvard and other institutions concluded a black man is more than six times as likely to be murdered than a white man.

"This isn't to say Taylor was killed because he was black," Hill wrote. "This is to say that, because he was black, Taylor was more likely to be killed. The weight of that should be just as jarring as waking up and discovering an NFL player died from a gunshot wound. Please don't roll your eyes, release a frustrated breath, and trivialize this as 'playing the race card.'"

Not everyone agreed that Taylor's legal issues should not have been mentioned.

"I don't think anyone can really escape their past," another said. "I didn't see the relevancy of the AP story talking about his fines and some on-field run-ins, but I didn't have a problem with the mention of his legal issues. no telling what this police investigation will turn up, it doesn't sound like a random break-in to me. maybe I'm just too cynical but when I first heard Taylor got shot at his home, I wasn't thinking about his present turnaround. I was thinking of his past troubles."

Asked for comment, Mike Silverman, senior managing editor at the Associated Press, said of Monday night's story:

"I went back and read through yesterday's story . . . I think it's pretty well balanced. The material on his problems appear in the context of his turning himself around after the birth of his daughter and a very sympathetic quote from teammate Clinton Portis."

He referred Journal-isms to AP's latest version of the story and pointed out that it now also had a sidebar about the medical aspects of the case.

Harris said the newer version did not address his concerns, "simply because it reworks the lead to address the general public's concern, as well as his family and friends, over his negative portrayal. But the grafs I cited in my initial post . . . are still included, however irrelevant and damaging.

"But yes, compared to yesterday's story on the shooting, it is much better in its reporting on the incident rather than Taylor's previous transgressions. Or I should say, more properly balanced."

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L.A.'s Black-Latino Clash

November 26, 2007

Los Angeles Times

Sunday Newspaper Section Airs 5 Views on Conflict

"Animosity between Latinos and blacks is the worst-kept secret in race relations in America," commentator Earl Ofari Hutchinson wrote Sunday in the Los Angeles Times.

"For years, Latino leaders have pointed the finger of blame at blacks when Latinos are robbed, beaten and even murdered. Blacks, in turn, have blamed Latinos for taking jobs, for colonizing neighborhoods, for gang violence. These days, the tension between the races is noticeable not only in prison life and in gang warfare (where it's been a staple of life for decades) but in politics, in schools, in housing, in the immigration debate. Conflicts today are just as likely — in some cases, more likely — to be between blacks and Latinos as between blacks and whites. In fact, even though hate-crime laws were originally created to combat crimes by whites against minority groups, the majority of L.A. County's hate crimes against blacks in 2006 were suspected to have been committed by Latinos, and vice versa, according to the county Commission on Human Relations."

Hutchinson's was the lead piece of five in an Opinion section package on relations between African Americans and Latinos in Los Angeles. "The issue of blacks and Latinos and the relationship between them is an important one in L.A.," Nicholas Goldberg, editor of the Sunday Opinion section, told Journal-isms. "A whole bunch of things have pushed it to the surface," many of them outlined by Hutchinson, he said.

"Across the country— in Plainfield, N.J.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Annapolis, Md., and Indianapolis, Ind., among other places — the clash between black and brown has drawn attention, and lots of it, because it involves two groups that some think should be natural allies," Hutchinson's piece continued. "At least that's what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez thought four decades ago. They had a mutual admiration society and passionately believed that blacks and Latinos were equally oppressed minorities and should march in lock step. . . . But that rhapsodic notion of black and brown harmony is now the faintest of faint memories."

Others addressed various pieces of the issue, or disagreed with Hutchinson's premise.

Columnist Gregory Rodriguez wrote, "I don't know why we insist on seeing this issue as one that involves all blacks and all Latinos. It doesn't. The lion's share of the fighting still occurs among the most marginalized of each group, those who do not feel themselves integrated into society. In other words, the phenomenon of black-Latino conflict has as much to do with social and economic alienation as it does with race. . . . the truth is that people who fall through the cracks find all sorts of reasons to get angry, and people to get angry with," wrote Rodriguez, author of the recently published "Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America."

Erin Aubry Kaplan, an African American who was formerly a regular on the L.A. Times op-ed page, wrote, "black people are tired of being conflated with Latinos as poor people in the same boat, navigating the same rough waters of ghetto deprivation, traveling a similar historical arc up to and including their immigration to Southern California seeking respite from an oppressive life. It's a good story that glosses over the instructive particulars of the black American experience that has always been, if not exactly uplifting, distinct and full of a certain moral power. An obvious difference is that black Americans are not immigrants at all but citizens who were denied full citizenship for well over 100 years."

Jill Leovy, who writes the Homicide Report, an L.A. Times blog that tracks homicides in Los Angeles County, looked at those figures.

"There is nothing wrong with paying attention to the marginal problem of black-Latino violence," she said. "But we need to keep our focus on the body count. The numbers tell a deeper story. Don't neglect the victims of black-on-black and Latino-on-Latino violence just because they don't make an exciting trend story. They are just as dead, and there are more of them."

Gustavo Arellano, the author of the book and column "¡Ask a Mexican!" and a staff writer for the OC Weekly in Orange County, wrote that "the brouhaha isn't pathological or even permanent.

"Most of the popular depictions of Afro-Mexicans I grew up with — Memín Pingüín, the lovable, dark-skinned comic-book character who looks like an ape, or the black characters on telenovelas or films — made Stepin Fetchit seem as dignified as Cornel West. When Mexicans migrate to the United States and interact with African Americans, their attitudes toward blacks therefore ensure some degree of cultural misunderstanding. And it's from this dehumanizing bias that Mexican gang members justify their hate for innocent blacks."

Speaking of his fellow Latinos, he said, "There is a problem between the two communities, and the onus falls on us to fix it, as we are the ones taking over black L.A.'s historical role as the most visible and vocal group demanding equality with white Anglos."

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Obama Story Line Turning to "Just Black Enough"?

Talk-show entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey, another African American with broad appeal among whites, will be campaigning for Barack Obama.
The story line on race and the Barack Obama candidacy took a different turn over the weekend. Instead of "is he black enough?" it turned to "he may be just black enough."

Conservative commentator George Will put it this way as an aside on ABC's "This Week":

"On the matter of race, which I think is the least important aspect of him, his election, that's the end of Al Sharpton. It's the end of Jesse Jackson. Great getting-up day in this country."

David S. Broder, the veteran Washington Post political observer, devoted his Sunday column to Shelby Steele, a black conservative who Broder said has written "a book-length essay arguing that Obama's public stance is essentially synthetic.

"In 'A Bound Man,' Steele makes the case that Obama has adopted 'a mask' familiar to many African Americans, designed to appease white America's fear of being thought racist by offering it the opportunity to embrace a nonthreatening black person," Broder wrote.

Another black celebrity who Steele puts in that category, Oprah Winfrey, will join Obama for a tour through three early voting states — Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire, on Dec. 8 and 9, the Obama campaign announced.

The Democratic senator from Illinois is the also subject of a cover story by Andrew Sullivan, the conservative onetime editor of the New Republic, in the Atlantic Monthly, where he is a senior editor. "This Week" host George Stephanopoulous won agreement from Sullivan when he said of Obama, "It does feel like this argument about change and the fact that he is the face of change is picking up speed and giving him more momentum in Iowa."

In the Dec. 3 issue of New York magazine, Jason Zengerle agreed, writing, "Barack Obama's electability argument is seemingly stronger. He has good favorability/unfavorability numbers, with a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finding a 43/24 split (in striking contrast to Hillary, whose favorable/unfavorable numbers were 43/44). What's more, Republicans and independents — especially those with advanced degrees — have a generally favorable opinion of him, according to an August analysis by Gallup. Nor does Obama's race appear to be a disadvantage in electability terms — and, according to Obama, it is actually a plus. Most public-opinion polls find that more than 90 percent of Americans say they would cast a presidential vote for a well-qualified candidate who happened to be African-American."

However, Zengerle continued, "there are some definite chinks in Obama's electability armor. For one thing, his favorability ratings don't necessarily translate into votes. As GQ reported this summer, Obama's own pollsters have discovered that less than half of those who say they like the candidate actually say they'd vote for him; by contrast, about two thirds of those who say they like Hillary say they'd vote for her."

The candidate himself had sharper talking points, and they were directed at Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. In an appearance on ABC-TV's "Nightline." "Obama went out of his way to belittle Clinton's experience as first lady," ABC said.

"'I think the fact of the matter is that Sen. Clinton is claiming basically the entire eight years of the Clinton presidency as her own, except for the stuff that didn't work out, in which case she says she has nothing to do with it," Obama said, and added, referring to his relationship with his wife, Michelle, 'There is no doubt that Bill Clinton had faith in her and consulted with her on issues, in the same way that I would consult with Michelle, if there were issues," Obama said. "On the other had, I don't think Michelle would claim that she is the best qualified person to be a United States Senator by virtue of me talking to her on occasion about the work I've done.'"

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign has been firing back over a report in the Washington Post that described how Obama's Senate leadership PAC doled money out to politicians in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

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"NBC Nightly News" Begins Series on Black Women

NBC News
"NBC Nightly News" series continues until Friday.
Throughout this week, the series "African-American Women: Where They Stand," is airing on "NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams."

The first piece, by Rehema Ellis, drew sharp contrasts between the progress made by black women and that by black men, and was notable for its suggestion that "society" celebrates bad-boy images of black men that might give black boys the idea that "dropping out is better than staying in."

NBC is part of a conglomerate, NBC Universal, that plays a part in presenting images of black men on television, in movies and in music, but the piece was too short to explore that angle.

Since the announcement of the series this month, the subject has generated a host of comments on the NBC News Web site.

The series will cover a wide range of issues, from black women's role in the 2008 presidential race to the increased health risks that should concern them, the network said.

On Tuesday, Ellis will look at the relationships of African American women. Many agree the gender disparity in education and business among African Americans is having an effect on the women's relationships, the network said.

Dr. Nancy Snyderman will discuss the increased risks for breast cancer for African American women on Wednesday. On Thursday, Ron Allen takes viewers to South Carolina— the first Southern primary state — and asks, "Will race trump gender or gender trump race?"

"To close the series on Friday, Dr. Snyderman will raise the frightening statistic that African-American women are 85% more likely to get diabetes, a major complication for heart disease. And, like breast cancer, more black women die from heart disease than white women," the network said. Mara Schiavocampo, digital correspondent for "Nightly News," is to address interracial dating and the impact of hip-hop music on black women.

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L.A. Mayor and Reporter-Girlfriend Break Up

"Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and television news reporter Mirthala Salinas have ended their romantic relationship, two sources familiar with the situation said Friday," David Zahniser reported Saturday in the Los Angeles Times.

"Months after revelations about the affair damaged the mayor's political standing and devastated Salinas' broadcasting career, the two sources said the relationship disintegrated weeks ago."

"A rising star in Spanish-language television news, Salinas read on the air the news of Villaraigosa's marital breakup on June 8 without disclosing that she had been romantically involved with the mayor for several months.

"Salinas received a two-month suspension for her handling of the situation.

"At the end of that suspension, she was reassigned from her post as temporary anchor to a Telemundo bureau in Riverside County.

"Instead of returning to her job, she quit."

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Les Payne Calls Out N.Y. Times on Gerald Boyd

Les Payne
Newsday columnist Les Payne is creating buzz with his Sunday column on Jeff Coplon's nearly 7,000-word New York magazine article on the late Gerald Boyd, who rose to become the paper's first African American managing editor, then was ousted, along with Executive Editor Howell Raines, in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair scandal.

By describing then-top editor Max Frankel as having played Branch Rickey to Boyd's Jackie Robinson, "Coplon imbues the Times' motivation with an enlightened sense of racial fair play," Payne wrote.

"The truth — which New York magazine completely omits — is that the Times was under court order to further desegregate its editorial staff. The paper settled the racial discrimination suit, Rosario et al. v. The New York Times, in 1980 for more than $1 million and a promise to do better. In the early 1980s, however, the court warned the Times in writing that A.M. Rosenthal, the editor later ousted to make way for Frankel, had failed to live up to the signed agreement.

"So it was the Rosario consent decree that boosted Boyd, not goodwill from the Times or altruism on the part of Max Frankel. This is not to diminish Boyd's talent and hard work. . . .

"With Boyd gone from his high perch, the Times has recovered from the affirmative effects of the Rosario consent decree. In a city nearly a third African-American, The New York Times, for example, covers the 75 percent black NFL and the 15 percent white NBA with a huge sports staff that among its editors, reporters and columnists fields only a single, black staffer, the columnist Bill Rhoden.

"There is a word that describes this pattern of coverage the Rosario suit addressed, but out of respect for Boyd's deep and unrequited love for the Times, I will not use the 'r' word here."

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Unlike Imus, "Greaseman" Wasn't Backed by Elite

"As the news spread about Don Imus' return to big-time radio in New York — complete with multimillion-dollar contract and prime morning-drive-time slot on one of the most popular stations in the nation Doug 'Greaseman' Tracht cradled a cocktail and settled onto the Good Ship Grease in Annapolis Harbor, ready for a day on the bay," columnist Marc Fisher wrote on Sunday in the Washington Post.

"When Imus comes back, the Greaseman will be on the water . . .

"It was two breathtakingly awful quips about race that put the Greaseman on ice. The first came in 1986, on DC-101, when, talking about the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, he said, 'Kill four more and we can take the whole week off.' For that, Tracht was suspended for a week; he donated money to Howard University to create scholarships for students.

"Then, in 1999, working on Classic Rock 94.7, after playing a song by black singer Lauryn Hill, Tracht opened his mike and said, 'No wonder people drag them behind trucks,' a ghastly reference to the murder in Texas of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was chained to the back of a truck by three white supremacists, dragged at high speeds and decapitated. Tracht was fired, pilloried in the media, deemed unemployable by every major league station in town.

"Tracht was off the air for two years. Week after week, he appeared before any audience that would have him, shepherded by black friends who believed that his remorse was genuine. He begged for another chance, confessed his racial biases, got turned away from black churches and went on Tavis Smiley's show on BET, plaintively asking a caller, 'Let me down off this cross, will you?'

"No one would. Stern and others were saying things far more inflammatory than Tracht's improv bits; the N-word was standard fare on many shock shows in those years, and the raunchier hosts regularly asked listeners to describe the most extraordinary sexual acts in extreme detail. But the ugliness of Grease's racial remarks trumped any sexual material, and unlike Imus, Tracht had few defenders among the power elite.

"More important, Tracht didn't offer station executives nearly the financial upside that Imus did."

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Short Takes

  • John X. Miller
    John X. Miller, a veteran journalist who most recently was director of community affairs and vice president of Detroit Free Press Charities, has accepted a buyout from the Detroit Media Partnership, which operates the Detroit News and Free Press. He has been named CEO of the Heat And Warmth Fund, a statewide emergency energy assistance organization, the fund announced on Nov. 19. Miller is a board member of the Maynard Institute and was formerly public editor at the Free Press.

  • "We've all decided that there are a lot of other subjects to write about, and we're going to move on," Andy Rosenthal, editor of the New York Times opinion pages, said, according to Clark Hoyt, public editor of the Times, writing Wednesday on his blog. Hoyt was discussing the op-ed back-and-forth over Ronald Reagan's 1980 speech in Philadelphia, Miss. "That means no next round in an argument that started Sept. 24 with a [Paul] Krugman column citing Reagan’s Philadelphia speech as one example of how, 'Since the days of Gerald Ford, just about every Republican presidential campaign has included some symbolic gesture of approval for good old-fashioned racism.'”

  • The Federal Communications Commission released the agenda for its Nov. 28 hearing on WWOR-TV New York's license renewal, John Eggerton reported in Broadcasting and Cable. The United Church of Christ and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition are challenging the continuing waiver News Corp. received to operate TV stations and newspapers in the same market. News Corp. also owns the New York Post.

  • Delaney (Ben) Casey, a longtime Huntsville, Ala., radio personality who died of cancer on Nov. 20, had the image of "the stereotypical, quintessential newsman's newsman," David Person wrote Friday in the Huntsville Times. "He was the real-life version of the cigar-chomping, tough-talking J. Jonah Jameson of the Spider-Man comic books and movies. But unlike the Jameson character, who was a newspaper man, Ben was radio through and through. As the news director of WAHR-FM 99.1, his reports had the punch and precision of big-city radio newscasts, the kind I grew up listening to in Chicago. His hunger to gather and report news crackled through his voice." Casey, who was 72, was a tireless activist on behalf of those with disabilities.

  • Larry Whiteside
    Larry Whiteside, the Boston Globe baseball writer and columnist who died in June, is one of three candidates for the Baseball Writers' Association of America's J.G. Taylor Spink Award. The others are Nick Peters of the Sacramento Bee and Dave Van Dyck of the Chicago Tribune. Jack O'Connell, secretary-treasurer of the organization, told Journal-isms that association members with 10 or more years' consecutive service vote on the award, the same electorate that votes in the Hall of Fame election next month. About 575 of the 1,200 members (800 active, about 400 honorary) are eligible to vote, he said.

  • "NABJ President Barbara Ciara will lead a delegation of seven journalists to Senegal, Dec. 1-9 to cover several key issues affecting the African nation, including the fight against malaria and HIV/AIDS, the impact of climate change, the improvement of education, and the efforts to close the digital divide," the National Association of Black Journalists announced. "Selected journalists include: Bob Butler, KCBS Radio, San Francisco; Cindy George, Houston Chronicle; Kafia Hosh, The (Fredericksburg, Va.) Free-Lance Star; Travers Johnson, The (Morehouse College) Maroon Tiger, Atlanta; Ojinika Obiekwe, WPIX-TV, New York; Khadijah White, NOW on PBS, New York; and Regina Boone, The Detroit Free Press."

  • Funeral services for Frances L. Murphy II, the former publisher of the Washington Afro-American who died Nov. 21 at 85, are scheduled for Thursday at 9:30 a.m. at St. James Episcopal Church, 1020 W. Lafayette Ave. in Baltimore. The Capital Press Club asks that whose with memories to share e-mail CPC1944@aol.com. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to AFRO Charities at 2519 N. Charles St. in her memory, the organization said.

  • The Toronto Star ran this correction last week: "A Nov. 19 article about a new study indicating that Detroit is the most dangerous U.S. city incorrectly stated that Detroit has seen nearly one million people killed since 1950. In fact, that number represents the overall decline in Detroit's population since 1950, not the number of people killed. The Star regrets the error." Detroit had 871,121 people in 2006, according to the Census Bureau.
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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. (Full disclosure: Richard Prince works part time at the Washington Post.) It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site BugMeNot.com provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites.

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