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The Bin Laden Death Photos and the Press

  1. As we await the inevitable release of the Osama bin Laden death photos on Tuesday, the Radio and Television News Directors Association put out this useful list of questions journalists should be considering as they plan how they will broadcast the material.

Are they missing anything? One thing is for sure -- there will be plenty of folks who will remain skeptical of the facts, despite documentary evidence.

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Boston Globe publisher William Taylor was both lucky and good

William Taylor (photo), the former Boston Globe publisher who died Sunday, was both lucky and good.

Lucky because his time as publisher coincided with an era of enormous prosperity in the newspaper industry. Good because he used that prosperity to transform the Globe into one of the best papers in the country. Under Taylor and the late editor Tom Winship, the Globe grew into a national-class paper with its own correspondents overseas and around the country.

For those who needed reminding, today's obituary, by Bryan Marquard, explains why Taylor had to sell. With the paper on the verge of devolving to about 120 heirs, the only way Taylor could preserve the Globe's legacy was to leave it in the hands of a good steward. He chose the New York Times Co., which paid an astounding $1.1 billion — half the Times Co.'s stock-market valuation at the time.

And if the Sulzbergers haven't been quite the magnanimous owners Bill Taylor might have hoped for (especially when his second cousin Ben Taylor was sacked as publisher in 1999), they still have maintained the Globe's quality to a far greater degree than a bottom-feeding chain like Gannett or a bankrupt behemoth like Tribune would have.

Bill Taylor's death comes at a time when Ben Taylor and his cousin Steve, himself a former Globe executive, are seeking to return to some sort of ownership role as part of a group put together by local businessman Aaron Kushner.

The Taylor brand gives Kushner instant credibility — and it was Bill Taylor who was largely responsible for creating that brand.

Also: The Nieman Foundation pays tribute to Taylor.

Osama bin Laden

Bin Laden and the Media

The past few weeks have been shaky ones for the media.

Excessive coverage in the lead-up to the royal wedding (what sort of veil will Kate wear?) and an obsession with Donald Trump's birther accusations (what are your private investigators finding in Hawaii?) smothered far more serious issues.

And then, late Sunday night, the major networks rediscovered their core.

The announcement of bin Laden's death corralled great correspondents, pushing them into New York and Washington bureaus. There were, among others, Russ Mitchell, David Gregory, George Stephanopoulos, Mike Boettcher, Chip Reid, and Lara Logan - who had just appeared on "60 Minutes" to discuss her devastating sexual assault in Egypt.

Foreign correspondents, who really knew what they were taking about, discussed the interplay between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And those who had covered 9/11, like Brian Williams, recalled the attacks and how they shook the nation.

Bin Laden's death marked a moment when the country needed the deep knowledge of old-school reporters, not a diatribe from Olbermann or Beck.

And knowledge is what we got.

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Royal Wedding coverage

It's gone from the sublime to the ridiculous to ... well, what comes after ridiculous? The effort going into covering the royal wedding of Britain's Prince William to Kate Middleton is well past over the top and on it's way to some rarified place that defies description. One NBC news executive has called the network's coverage it's "biggest international technical buildout ever." Entire morning shows are being shipped across the Pond. A Neilsen study has even shown that royal wedding coverage in the US - as a percentage of overall coverage of the news - has even surpassed coverage in Britain. 

 

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The media and the birther movement

The White House released President Obama's long-form birth certificate in an attempt to finally kill off the birther phenomenon. Good luck with that. Instead of finally dismissing the issue, the media - which pumped up the story hanging on every pronouncement from possible GOP candidate Donald Trump no matter how idiotic - proceeded to dig up everyone else on the birther fringe yet again. 

 

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Why was a cameraman held at Guantanamo Bay?

Sami al-Hajj, a Sudanese cameraman for Al Jazeera, was detained in Pakistan by US forces after working for the network in Afghanistan after 9/11, and flown to the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Documents made public by WikiLeaks show US intelligence officials believed al-Hajj was an al-Qaida courier who had provided funds for a charity in Chechnya suspected of having links with Bin Laden. But they also show that during his first 100-plus interrogations he was never once questioned about the allegations he faced, and was instead questioned about the network's training programs, equipment, and its newsgathering operations. He was eventually released in 2008. If the US is going to complain about the detention of American journalists in other countries, how can it justify imprisoning a foreign journalist simply to learn about his network?

 

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Panel Peeves

The always-lively segment where our panelists bring a variety of their own short topics to the discussion. This week's rants and raves: businessman Aaron Kushner pushes ahead with his plan to buy The Boston Globe; Lara Logan breaks her silence about her assault in Egpyt; NBC's Erin Burnett joins CNN; Bill O'Reilly grills Rev. Franklin Graham on his controversial beliefs.

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Bid to buy the Globe keeps inching along

A lightly publicized effort to buy the Boston Globe from the New York Times Co. continues to inch forward.

Casey Ross, writing in the Globe, reports that businessman Aaron Kushner is prepared to offer more than $200 million for the Globe, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester and Boston.com. That's considerably more than the $35 million figure that was bandied about two summers ago, which the Times Co. ultimately chose to walk away from.

No one even knows if the Sulzberger family would consider selling the Globe at this point, and Kushner is just a guy with money. What makes his bid interesting is that he's pulled into his group such people as former Globe publisher Ben Taylor, his cousin Stephen Taylor, a former Globe executive, and Ben Bradlee Jr., a former top editor. (The Taylors were also involved in one of the efforts to buy the Globe two years ago.)

As Ross notes, the Globe is doing better today than it was during the crash-and-burn summer of 2009, though it's hardly out of the woods. A lot of us would welcome a return to local ownership as long as that wouldn't presage either a wholesale dismantling or a diminution of news standards and values. Kushner sounds serious about wanting to reinvent the Globe, though I suspect he's kidding himself if he thinks he's got some secret formula.

Earlier this year, Katherine Ozment profiled Kushner for Boston magazine. He did not, shall we say, come across as the second coming of Gen. Charles H. Taylor. Nevertheless, this is an intriguing moment in the life of the region's dominant media organization.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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Family Matters: Robert MacNeil's autism report

Robert MacNeil returns to the PBS NewsHour this month for the first time in 15 years, and there are some who say it would have been better if he'd stayed away. MacNeil, 80, has produced a six-part series called "Autism Now" exploring various aspects of the rise in Autism cases in the US. But it is also a deeply personal story because MacNeil's 6-year-old grandson, Nick, is autistic, and the show's producer, Caren Zucker, has a 16-year-old son with Autism. The series has come under fire because MacNeil's daughter Alison uses it to advocate for the theory that childhood vaccines triggered her son's disorder, even though the autism-vaccine connection has been widely discredited. Alison MacNeil has also attacked vaccines in a joint press release from an anti-vaccination group, prompting questions about whether the project should have been tackled by someone more objective. 

 

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Covering Libya becomes deadly

Tim Hetherington was nominated for an Oscar as co-director of the documentary Restrepo which he filmed alongside US forces involved in some of the toughest fighting in Afghanistan. Photographer Chris Hondros was a Pulitzer finalist who had worked in numerous conflict zones including Iraq and Liberia. Their deaths this week on the war-torn streets of Misrata have some journalists asking whether the conflict in Libya is simply too dangerous to cover on the ground. One of those journalists is GlobalPost co-founder Phil Balboni, who is currently negotiating for the release of reporter James Foley, a freelancer who was detained in early April by forces loyal to Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. Balboni - who has hired a British security firm to help facilitate the release of Foley and three others - says the ever-shifting front lines have made covering the conflict up close unacceptably dangerous, and that the next reporter the foreign news web site assigns to Libya will be ordered to stay in the relative safety of rebel-held Benghazi. 

 

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60 Minutes sheds light on a philanthropists' claims

When Greg Mortensen appeared with his inspiring story of mountain-climbing-bum-turned-school-builder-to-impoverished-villagers in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the media-publishing mythmaking machine swung into action. Mortensen became one of the most famous philanthropists in the world, his book "Three Cups of Tea" became required reading for US military forces in Central Asia, and even President Obama donated to his charity. But a 60 Minutes expose which found that many of Mortensen's claims were fabricated and that his foundation abused donated funds has media organizations second-guessing their role in making him a hero.

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Panel Peeves

The always-lively segment where our panelists bring a variety of their own short topics to the discussion. This week's rants and raves: excessive coverage of a false alarm at the Burlington Mall; Salon debunks the myth about Sarah Palin's son; Wonkette takes heat for targetting Sarah Palin's down syndromed child; Al Jazeera's new social media show seeks a cable carrier; The Atlantic reveals what people in the news read.

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Pulitzer winner Ellen Barry's Boston ties

While the Boston Globe's visual-arts critic, Sebastian Smee, continues to receive well-deserved accolades for his Pulitzer Prize, it is less well-known that another of yesterday's Pulitzer winners has strong Boston ties, too.

Ellen Barry (photo) of the New York Times, who shared the award for international reporting with her Times colleague Clifford Levy, is a former reporter for the Globe and the Boston Phoenix. Ellen and I worked together at the Phoenix in the mid-1990s.

In 1996, she reported from Russia for the Phoenix on Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign — and wrote a classic story headlined "Generation Nyet." The folks at the Phoenix have dug the story of their archives and linked to it anew. It is well worth your time, as is Phoenix editor Carly Carioli's tribute.

Ann Marie Lipinski to run Nieman Foundation

Former Chicago Tribune editor Ann Marie Lipinski (photo) has been named curator of Harvard's Nieman Foundation for Journalism, replacing Bob Giles, who's retiring this June. Steve Myers has the details and the links at Poynter.org.

Nieman is a leading journalism education and research foundation, as well as a center for mid-career journalists looking to recharge their batteries. (Note: I am an occasional contributor to its journal, Nieman Reports.) Lipinski instantly becomes one of the most important media thinkers in Boston.

From the press release:

Lipinski brings three decades of journalism experience to her new post. Prior to joining the University of Chicago in 2008, where she is credited with major contributions to the discourse around the future of the city, arts programs in the community, and collaborations with local public schools, she served as editor of the Chicago Tribune for more than seven years. Under her stewardship, the Tribune became known as a leader in public service journalism, publishing stories with both investigative depth and literary detail, including a multiyear reporting effort that helped bring about a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois. Under her leadership, the Tribune won Pulitzers for international, explanatory, investigative, feature, and editorial writing. The paper also significantly expanded its portfolio of print and digital offerings.

Lipinski was a Nieman Fellow in 1990, so she knows her way around Harvard Square — although, if she's like the rest of us, she'll find it considerably less interesting than it was the last time she was here.

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Panel Peeves

The always-lively segment where our panelists bring a variety of their own short topics to the discussion. This week's rants and raves: Praise for a pair of Kentucky journalists who toppled a crooked sheriff; the Boston Globe outsources its online comment moderation; CNN looks for minority talent; Jonathan Tisini sues the Huffington Post; and the media forgets Charlie Sheen's history with domestic violence.

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