Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Kudos to The Washington Post for streaming live coverage of Ben Bradlee's funeral today.

Watch it HERE or below. And remember what a great newsman he was.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Much of the news media may be facing its most irresponsible news coverage and fear-mongering with the current over hype and piling on of Ebola.

Yes this is a dangerous and potentially deadly disease. And yes, it is a widespread outbreak in the African nations that have been hit by the spread of infection to tens of thousands of people.

But the way much of the U.S. news media has blown up the Ebola story with scare headlines, breaking news reports and lead stories on news programs is downright careless. Each newscast, it seems, is opening with the latest on the so-called outbreak. An outbreak that has infected a handful of people. And in most cases, those people are recovering well without spreading the disease, and without endangering most others with whom they come into contact.

While most medical experts continue to stress that the Ebola virus can only be spread through personal bodily fluids, and only if the patient is showing symptoms, much of the press loves to hype it up as some kind of growing danger that could harm the public at large.

Reports of people hospitalized with Ebola-like symptoms get the same media treatment as those who have it. When the first confirmed case was found in New York City, headlines blared that it had "come to New York" in a way that made some think it was a new plague.

It is not.

The real danger is the effort to grab attention and ratings that drives much of the coverage. Such over hype and carelessness leads to incidents such as the nurse forced to stay in a New Jersey hospital tent for several days after she was found with a fever at the airport upon returning home from aiding patients in West Africa. Although later tests showed she did not have a fever, or Ebola, she did not get released until Monday.

Much of it follows the same hype and fear-mongering we have seen in the past with the likes of Swine Flu, Bird Flu, H1N1 and even early reporting on AIDS. I still recall in the 80's people afraid to be in the same room with an AIDS patient, even though medical facts were clear how difficult it was to catch from casual contact.

The same is appearing with Ebola, but worse because the media landscape is so much greater today. And the media is more interested in blowing up the hype to grab eyeballs and ratings than point out why this disease is not nearly as contagious as the press would like you to believe.

New concerns have arisen that such hype and fear-mongering could hurt the effort to treat the real outbreak in Africa by placing a stigma on health care workers who go there and possibly making some reluctant to go.  There have even been reports on Ebola-related bullying.

Some news programs, such as CNN's Reliable Sources and NBC's Meet the Press, have taken a careful look at the disease. And in many cases pointed out firmly that the dangers are not what are being reported.

A great Washington Post piece back in August also sought to collectively shake our nation into reality, stating: "Why you're not going to get Ebola in the U.S."

But these days, such careful, fact-based reporting is a rarity and overkill and panic in the news is the rule. Right-wing media that is always out to attack this administration is among the worst.

But it has surpassed political angles and simply to punch up a story beyond what its reality is across the entire news spectrum. Perhaps the new CDC guidelines issued Monday will help calm the hysteria.

The Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics -- considered the bible of journalistic practice -- has a separate section titled "Minimize Harm." It goes on to state, in part, "Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort."

The way Ebola is being misreported and hyped up is clearly breaking that code.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


Too much to say about Ben Bradlee after hearing of his sad passing Tuesday night. I got the first word on Twitter, how appropriate in today's breaking news world, and immediately felt a loss.

Bradlee and the whole Watergate story were among the reasons I became a reporter. The more I learned about how he guided The Washington Post through that and other challenges, the more I respected him and the power of the press.

Newspapers do not seem to have the influence and guts they used to in many cases. But the story of Bradlee, not just during Watergate but the Pentagon Papers and other demanding news experiences, showed me and many others that the power of journalism was like no other.

He knew that you had to question authority and demand answers, facts and information. That trait is sometimes lost today in the world of D.C. journalistic celebrity and access worries. Bradlee was great because he was a real news person, but also a Washington socialite in his own right. He was able to balance the two and never let his reporting needs be impacted.

Even when mistakes were made, such as the embarrassing 1980 Janet Cooke story that was later retracted as a fabrication and its Pulitzer Prize returned, Bradlee stood strong. He offered to resign and later wrote in his biography, A Good Life, that the scandal was a "cross that journalism, especially The Washington Post, and especially Benjamin C. Bradlee, will bear forever."

But it was when I was fortunate enough to meet him years later during my time at Editor & Publisher that I appreciated his insight and kindness. On several occasions I was able to call him for comment on this or that issue and he would always call back, or in some cases even write a letter.

Whether in person or on the phone, Bradlee was both courteous and direct. He was not above throwing in a few profanities and saying what he believed.

When I wrote a story in 2004 about news people and their journalistic children, Bradlee and his oldest son, Ben Bradlee, Jr. -- then a Boston Globe editor -- were most accommodating.

The pinnacle came in 2006 when I was visiting Washington , D.C. and called his office to see if I could stop by and say hello. His secretary said he was heading out to lunch. When I offered to buy him lunch, she said he would meet me out front in 10 minutes or so.

When I reached the front door, he was just coming out, shook my hand and pointed to the Madison Hotel across the street. As we began walking across 15th Street, he darted out in front, dodging cars and giving me a near heart attack. I had visions of Ben Bradlee getting killed with me in tow as the cause.

We made it across and had a great lunch. I later told colleagues it was like having a meal with Reggie Jackson, another idol.

But along with Bradlee's news accomplishments, he also fought another battle for his son, Quinn, who was born with a learning disability and had long been a focus of the legendary editor's attention. Even during our lunch he talked about an upcoming trip the two were to take back to Guadalcanal, where Bradlee served in World War II.

At 93, few can feel as if his life ended too soon. But for those of us in the news business who still consider newspapers the best place for journalism his death is both the end of a life and the end of an era. An era when digging for news and reporting it with no excuses was the most important thing.

If there is a heaven, they now have a hell of an editor.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


I posted a story at Media Matters for America about George Will's upcoming appearance at Miami University (Ohio) next week even as he continues to receive criticism for offensive comments about campus rape.

During my research, I obtained a copy of Will's contract for the appearance.

Along with the usual cancellation stipulations and hotel requirements -- as well as his $48,000 fee -- the contract stipulated he could pull out of the event without penalty if the Chicago Cubs had made it to the playoffs or World Series. An Illinois native, Will is the author of several books on baseball, including one on Wrigley Field (at left), the Cubs home. 

See the relevant portion of the contract below:

Of course, as anyone who follows baseball knows, the Cubs have not been in the playoffs very often, including this year. So Will's calendar appears to be safe from disruption.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Sad to hear about the shutdown Tuesday of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the legendary alternative weekly in my former home by the bay. You can read the last issue HERE.

I lived in the Bay Area for seven years, from 1990 to 1997, and spent the last four years there writing for the semi-weekly S.F. Independent.

During that time I came to appreciate the tough, loudmouth and no-excuses coverage of the Bay Guardian and its founding editor Bruce Brugmann. Brugmann was old school and tough.

The great weekly's motto, to "Print The News and Raise Hell," was perfect for San Francisco, a city that managed to combine culture, business, and sophistication with diversity, liberalism, counter-culture and outright upheaval.

And its news coverage deserved nothing less. When the daily San Francisco Chronicle and San Francisco Examiner failed to dig deep into the lower classes and poverty issues, we at the Independent helped to go after them as well as the Guardian.

The Guardian, from its first day on the streets in 1966, was not shy about promoting its own issues, especially Brugmann's decades long fight to kill the PSE&G utility monopoly in town. The scrappy paper also was among the first to push for gay rights, transgender rights and free AIDS tests in the city by the bay.

I recall the 1999 mayor's race when veteran Board of Supervisors member Tom Ammiano conducted a write-in campaign. The Guardian published a special story guiding voters on how to "write-in" a candidate. Ammiano won enough support to force a run-off with incumbent Willie Brown.

But more than any other publication this side of Tales of the City, The Guardian celebrated San Francisco's bohemia, beyond just gay rights and liberal views. It had a place for any and all consenting adult debauchery, freedom of expression and rights.

It also was the go-to place for local news of the arts, music, food and the best seedy nightlife. The Guardian's Best of the Bay issue became must reading each year and has since been copied by most alternative papers and regional magazines. 

But the one I will always remember is Brugmann, who really created the modern day alternative newspaper with his publication. He would at times attack my paper, The Independent, but also support us at other moments. 

The end seemed inevitable when Brugmann sold the paper and stepped down in 2012 and the Guardian went into the hands of the San Francisco Media Company, which runs today's cut down version of the Examiner and the Guardian's longtime rivals, SF Weekly

SFMC announced the Guardian's shutdown with today's final issue.

Let's hope San Francisco can find something to keep fighting the counter-culture, loudmouth and necessary journalistic battles that this great paper used to.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


Doris Kearns Goodwin’s next book will be on leadership, she told a crowd at a New Jersey college Wednesday night.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of No Ordinary Time, Team of Rivals and The Bully Pulpit said she wants to bring the leaders discussed in those works, and others, together for one book on how they governed.

“I’m going to bring all my guys in the room at the same time and write about more than I did tonight. What are the common attributes that they had? How did they do it differently in their time?” Goodwin told the audience at New Jersey City University in Jersey City during an appearance. “There’s something about leadership that I think there’s similarities over time. So it’s going to be a book about leadership and it will have in it Lincoln and FDR and Eleanor and LBJ will be there inevitably and Teddy etc., etc. So I’ve already started and I’m promising myself it’s only going to take two years instead of 10 and it won’t be as fat as these other books have been.”

Goodwin revealed the information in response to a question from an audience member following a speech about her experiences writing about history.

She also elaborated on why her next book will be shorter, stating: “I got a wonderful letter from a woman who read Bully Pulpit, which was wonderful at the first part of the letter because she really loved it. But she said she was reading it at night and one time she fell asleep when she was reading it and it fell on her nose and broke her nose. I’m betting that the next one will be thinner and nobody’s nose will be broken.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Gary Webb. Photo: Sacramento Bee
It's been nearly 10 years since reporter Gary Webb died, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. But his story is more than a suicidal journalist driven to death by depression and a difficult personal life. 

It's an example of a reporter's own newspaper, and his fellow news organizations, failing to back him up when the heat came down. 

Now a new movie with Jeremy Renner, Kill The Messenger, is due out this week and apparently gives the real account of Webb's work and how he was unfairly punished for seeking to get out the truth. And how it killed him.

Webb, who died in December 2004, sought to break a major story eight years before his death that claimed the CIA was involved in illegal drug-running. His Dark Alliance series, which ran in the San Jose Mercury News in 1996, offered a serious link between the CIA and crack cocaine smuggling and distribution.

After the series ran, the criticism began and the Mercury News essentially threw Webb under the bus, publishing a lengthy letter claiming problems with the series and later demoting him to a lesser beat. He left the paper in 1997 and eventually wound up at the alternative Sacramento News & Review.

After his death, I wrote a lengthy story for Editor & Publisher magazine in which I interviewed his ex-wife and brother and found that Webb had been battling depression and other problems sparked, in part, by the way he was unfairly demonized.

Moreover, other news outlets that might have picked up the story and explored it further criticized Webb and sought to write him off as a bad reporter. 

In the years since, however, many news outlets have admitted their mistakes in bashing Webb and realized his reporting was, for the most part, on target. 

In today's journalism where partisan attack claims, newsroom cutbacks and demands for instant content have crippled many news outlets, Webb's story stands as a reminder of what real shoe-leather reporting can do. But also why good journalism needs to be supported and defended.

See my 2008 story on the movie's development HERE and a movie trailer for the Oct. 10 release of Kill the Messeneger below:

Monday, October 6, 2014


It's not often you see The New York Times praising The Washington Post.

The two have done fierce battle in the past, particularly when it comes to covering D.C. politics.

But this morning, Times media columnist David Carr, among the most well-known media reporters, heaped on the praise of the Post and editor Martin Baron.

Among his tributes: 

The once-embattled newspaper is in the middle of a great run, turning out the kind of reporting that journalists — and readers — live for. That includes coverage that played a role in the resignation of the director of the Secret Service and investigative work that eventually led to the conviction of a former governor of Virginia on corruption charges.

Read the rest HERE.