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September 3rd, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Media, Blogging, Internet; Urban Life & New York City

Hearing Harvey Araton Talk about “Cold Type”

I really enjoyed reading Cold Type after getting a copy at BEA in early summer, and it was fun meeting Araton last night at Book Court. It’s like a Tom Wolfe novel, in that it’s set against a churning social backdrop, the NYC that was emerging in 1994, just as the Internet was about to change journalism, but it has a lot more heart than Wolfe, with characters whose fates you really ponder, even the bad guys. Araton’s been writing about sports, in the NY Times and in books for years, but this is his first novel and it’s really good. I wrote about it on this blog June 14.

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May 21st, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Honourary Canadian; Media, Blogging, Internet; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

Taking a Page from Honourary Canadian

As readers of this blog may have noticed, I started a second blog in 2013, called Honourary Canadian: Seeing Canada From Away. After starting this blog in 2011, I was often posting about Canada, and a couple years in, decided to start a second site devoted to Canadian topics, where I’d offer my views of Canada for Canadians and others interested in the country. I aspire to the perspective and the work of Alistair Cooke, who broadcast and wrote knowledgeably and sensitively about America, after moving to the US from England. Like this site, at the new blog I write about Canadian books, publishing, live music, media, and politics, with the cross-cultural perspective of a respectful outsider. I’ve been sharing HC links here from time to time and integrating the two sites one with another, for instance setting up a feed so the latest posts from each site are readily visible and linked to on the other. The two blogs are sort of like siblings, with this one the older brother.

I’m posting here today to let Great Gray Bridge readers know I recently published a new entry at Honourary Canadian called Why I Started This Blog and Call It Honourary Canadian, which explores my lifelong interest in the neighbor to the north. I invite you to read it. It’s a memoiristic piece that chronicles many trips I’ve made in Canada since childhood, beginning with Expo ’67 when I was just twelve years old; authors whose books I’ve read and published; bands I’ve seen live and become friendly with; and reflections on differences between the US and Canada, and the media in both countries. Along with the essay, I’ve included dozens of scenic photographs, book covers, band photos, and scans of letters I received from Canadian novelist Robertson Davies, with whom I had a lengthy correspondence when I ran Undercover Books in the 1980s.

At the top of this entry is a shot of that new post, which will give you a sense of what the new site looks like if you’ve not visited yet. Just as I found a visual touchstone for this blog from a scenic landmark—the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge, and the little red lighthouse—I found visual inspiration for the new site in a true wonder of the world, the majestic Percé Rock (aka le rocher percé or ‘pierced rock’), a huge rock face on eastern Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, a veritable lobster tail jutting in to the Gulf of St. Lawrence where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. Below is a pic of what that post looks like. If you enjoy awe-inspiring scenery, I recommend you check out the whole post, which includes many photos I took during a visit there in 1988. In fact, I invite you to visit Honourary Canadian, and have a look around. 

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May 20th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History

Is Some Sort of Journalistic Karma Striking the New York Times?

To expand on my tweet, it is Aron Pilhofer that’s leaving the New York Times and joining the Guardian now as Executive Editor for digital. As is clear from the Guardian‘s announcement, he was recruited by Janine Gibson, beginning last March, she points out, to make clear it was underway before the recent unpleasantness. Gibson has found herself an inadvertent participant in the Jill Abramson firing debacle, as she had been in the process of being courted by Abramson, and other Times bigs including Dean Baquet, now the top editorial exec at the Times replacing Abramson. A continuing disagreement among the principals in the imbroglio is what Abramson said to Baquet about the likely level of Gibson’s role, if she came to the Times. Baquet says Abramson never told him they’d be co-managing editors. For what it’s worth, I think he ought to have sensed she’d be a senior figure, with a great rep preceding her at the Guardian. Did Baquet underestimate her likely station, hence his dismay upon learning of it? Whichever is the case, it seems clear that Abramson never had a chance to offer Gibson any job at all before Sulzberger acted to get ride of her, following lunch with an angry Baquet. I love the irony then of the fact that Janine Gibson, onetime recruiting target of the Times, just “pilfered,” in a manner of speaking, a bright new hire named “Pilhofer,” an improbable aural accident of two words sharing several sounds.

I might not have bothered to tweet this yesterday, or written this follow up—the lethal politics of the NY Times don’t interest me that much—if not for the high irony of the new hire.

I had an experience of my own involving the Times. From 1997-2000 I was Executive Editor at Random House for the Times Books imprint, a long running line of books for which the Times licensed their name to titles often written by their reporters, or drawn generally from the newspaper’s deep reporting. I liased with editors and staff at the newspaper, dreaming up book ideas with sections like the Sunday Book Review (Books of the Century); Real Estate (“If You’re Thinking of Living In . . .“; City (FYI); and Dining (The Best of Craig Claiborne). I also got to do a fun analog job of photo-editing, publishing illustrated wall and desk calendars drawn from the Times’ 100-plus-year-old Photo Archive, once a physical place that is now digitized.

As the imprint liaison I was invited to a few Times parties. I recall going to one for a new Anna Quindlen novel. I arrived on the early side. At first it seemed a light, fizzy crowd, certainly no tensions evident. Suddenly I took note of a rising anxiety in the room as senior honchos arrived, one by one, each seeming to jockey for positioning in some hierarchy fully visible only to those in the power circle, though the rest of us in the room could sense it. The toasts and encomiums that came when the author was feted seemed to be done through gritted teeth, as eyes darted around the room. Watching the takedown of Abramson committed by Sulzberger reminded me of that Times party, which I recall leaving as soon as the speeches were finished.

As a closer here, I want to share the succinctly apt tweet put out by Janine Gibson the day Jill Abramson’s firing was announced by the NY Times.

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February 4th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

CBO Report on Obamacare Points to More Economic Justice Over Next Decade

Republicans have seized on news reports of the new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecast about ObamaCare’s impact on the country over the next decade. The righties instantly and loudly pointed to what they claim is a finding that more than 2,000,000 jobs will be lost between now and 2024. Unfortunately, so far the media is playing along with their false reading of the study.  On his Plum Line blog Greg Sargent has a corrective commentary with an actual quote from the report, followed by a summation of his own:

“‘The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply, rather than from a net drop in business’ demand for labor, so it will appear almost entirely as a reduction in labor force participation and in hours worked relative to what have occurred otherwise rather than as an increase in unemployment (that is, more workers seeking, but not finding jobs) or underemployment (such as part-time workers who would prefer to work more hours per week).’

The CBO report actually says that the impact of the ACA will be ‘almost entirely’ due to a decline in labor that ‘workers choose to supply.’ It says explicitly that the ACA’s impact will not be felt as an ‘increase in unemployment’ or ‘underemployment.’”

Useful and necessary as Sargent’s correction is, I’ll  add an interpretation of mine, based on my own experience working in the freelance economy since 2009. That’s when a corporate publishing layoff cost me a full-time job, and my family what had been our employer-based health insurance. For five years–until this month, when we could finally get affordable coverage under the new law–the cost of private health insurance premiums has been an onerous burden on our household economy.

I interpret the CBO forecast as pointing to the likelihood that in future there will be fewer Americans working full-time jobs at major corporations with health insurance attached, as was our national norm in the 20th century. This was an American anomaly, not an historical inevitability, one of those times when our vaunted “exceptionalism” didn’t serve the national interest. This benefit offered people security, but only if you had a full-time job. It also shackled people to jobs they might not have otherwise continued working at. I anticipate that with health insurance reform, many more people will be able to be self-employed while finally enjoying reliable and affordable coverage. The CBO report suggests my hope could become reality.

Since President Obama’s election in 2008, when health insurance reform came back on the national agenda for the first time since the Clinton years, I’ve hoped that reform might unleash many enterprising solo and small shop operators. No longer tethered to corporate jobs, people would be able to take reasonable risk to start a business on their own or with a couple partners, confident that even if their new idea fails, they won’t have to spend down their security to keep themselves from being exposed to the truly terrible risk of illness without insurance. With many more people working for their dreams, we could become to a greater extent, a nation of entrepreneurs, business-builders, and job creators. This is something that pro-market conservatives always tout, so they ought to cheer for health reform that unleashes a new era of entrepreneurial energy.

I miss certain aspects of big-company employment, and continue to apply for full-time jobs as appropriate, and might be glad to take one, but my larger preference is that the economy just begin to grow again with many millions of flowers blooming.  I will add that if the country had not been forced to endure unwarranted austerity through Republican obstructionism the past five years, the editorial & publishing services consultancy I started in 2009 would’ve grown much faster. As to the CBO’s point that people will choose to work fewer hours, I see nothing wrong with people spending more time with their families, traveling, and enjoying new recreational pursuits. With so many of us having suffered financial pain since 2008 it would be economic justice indeed if by 2024 we’re all doing so well that people can work less while enjoying it more.

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January 16th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Media, Blogging, Internet

A Windy Day for the New York Times

I feel a draft from this sentence in a NY Times story on Chris Christie’s most senior appointee to the Port Authority, David Samson. This is some seriously over-written and comically bad news writing:

“The firm’s doors in West Orange and Trenton often spin from the wind of its lawyers departing for, and soon returning from, state government positions.”

As the New Yorker used to put it, “Block that metaphor.”

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January 15th, 2014

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History; Philip Turner's Books & Writing

Never Imagined I’d Trigger a Twitter Meltdown by Geraldo Rivera

 

Last Saturday afternoon I was working in my home office, waiting for the NFL playoff games to get started for the day, when I tuned in C-Span’s Book TV, which I often do on weekends. I was pleased to find they were airing an interview with NPR media reporter David Folkenflik discussing his current book, Murdoch’s World, which I first covered on this blog during BEA last June.Murdoch's World

Folkenflik told a story, new to me, involving Geraldo Rivera, FOX News, that prompted the above tweet, with the vulgar epithet from Roger Ailes. To be accurate, Folkenflik never accused Rivera of lying, that’s the conclusion I drew in my tweet while watching the Book TV segment. About an hour after I sent out my tweet, Rivera, whose Twitter handle I had used in the message as a matter of record not to provoke him, saw my message and quickly chose to renew a feud with Folkenflik that he’s nurtured since 2001. You could say Rivera took bait I put out there, though I hadn’t imagined he would chomp on it, or quite so hard. The whole thing happened more than twelve years ago, but for Rivera, whose reporting and honesty were to many observers convincingly questioned by Folkenflik’s reporting, it must be fresh as yesterday. As noticed widely on Twitter, and even yesterday by Politico, in a mounting series of  rage-filled tweets, Rivera has directed ad hominem venom at Folkenflik. Here’s an as-concise-as-I-can-make it rendition of the story Folkenflik told, quoting a modest chunk of his book to amplify what he said on TV.

It begins in 2001, when Folkenflik was the Baltimore Sun‘s media reporter, before he moved to NPR. On Book TV he explained that after 9/11, Rivera “bristled at the idea of staying behind a desk while a war raged elsewhere,” so he left a hosting job at CNBC and went to FOX, to become the network’s chief correspondent in Afghanistan, which the US had invaded a few weeks after the terrorist attacks in NYC and DC. The book picks up the story:

“He was, Rivera announced, on a quest to track down ‘the dastardly one’ (his personal term for Osama Bin Laden). On an early December day, he showed footage from Afghanistan, twice in a twenty-four hour period, in which he prayed over the site where he said three American soldiers and numerous allied Afghan fighters had been killed by a US bombing raid in what was euphemistically called a ‘friendly fire’ incident. He said he had seen their tattered uniforms and showed himself, on video, reciting the Lord’s Prayer.”

A day later he filed his broadcast story from Tora Bora. Thing is, the only incident of friendly fire suffered by American troops that occurred in the same time frame was in Kandahar, 300 miles from Tora Bora. Folkenflik continues in his book, “I talked to reporters in Afghanistan, people who handled logistics at rival networks, senior staffers with international relief agencies and human rights groups active there, and US military officials. None of them thought the journey from Tora Bora to Kandahar and back was feasible by road in less than twenty-four hours, while an official at the Pentagon said Rivera certainly had not hitched a ride with US forces or aircraft. When I asked [FOX] how he could have made this round trip down and back in a single day…a FOX News spokeswoman angrily asked whether I was saying he made it up.”

No information that FOX or Rivera subsequently produced, nor anything he told Folkenflik in a “vivid and livid interview by satellite phone” from Afghanistan convinced him that Rivera was telling the truth, either at the outset of his reporting on TV, or later, amid excuses he offered for what he finally attributed to “the fog of war.” For their part, FOX, not wanting to push their own guy too far under the bus, gamely said he had made “an honest mistake.” That would be nice, were it true. I believe that FOX and Rivera–who always casts himself at the center of his reporting, a De Mille of the small screen–had wanted a great ‘get’ for his broadcast, and claimed to be at the burial site of US troops. This was an early example of politicizing US troops and losses of life, in a way that the Bush administration, and right-wing media with FOX leading the way, became very practiced at over the next several years, a veritable dark art of the Bush years.

That pretty much brings us to last Saturday, when Rivera went ballistic over my tweet that showed Folkenflik was discussing the long-ago incident in his book interviews, including Ailes’ colorful gloss on the matter, uttered some years later when Folkenflik and Ailes met for the first time. In social media since last Saturday, Rivera has called Folkenflik a “punk,” “a lying leech,” “a rat,” “a skunk,” and an ass-kisser.” His Twitter handle is @GeraldoRivera, if you want to see his tweets for yourself. For the record, yesterday, in Day Four of this story, he also posted a lengthy self-defense on his Facebook page. I have been amused and somewhat amazed to see how my tweet lit up things over the past several days. I’ll continue to live tweet Book TV in weeks to come, though I don’t expect to have quite so dramatic an impact next time.Folkenflik on Book TV

Meantime, I’ll be continuing to read Murdoch’s World, and enjoying Folkenflik’s keen reporting on NPR. I recommend his whole book–for the record the 2001 story on Geraldo Rivera is on pages 61-65. I look forward to hearing Folkenflik, with Gabriel Sherman–author of the new book, The Loudest Voice in the Room: How the Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News–and Divided a Country–at the New America Foundation’s New York space on January 27, when the two will talk about Murdoch, Ailes, and maybe even Geraldo Rivera.

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November 24th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History; Publishing & Bookselling

Jeff Stein Visits Lara Logan’s Husband at Home

November 26 Update:

NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik just reported on their hourly news bulletin that Lara Logan and the producer of the botched “60 Minutes” segment on Benghazi have been put on a leave of absence for the many misjudgments they made in producing writing that piece for the show. More to come . . .

 

Kudos to Jeff Stein, veteran national security and intelligence reporter, for his important Newsweek story, “Lara Logan’s Mystery Man”. He explores what may have motivated Logan to so badly mis-report her “60 Minutes” story on Benghazi which was built upon the contributions of a source who claimed to be an eyewitness to events it is now understood he couldn’t have seen. Almost immediately after the October 27 airing of the segment, critics began questioning the CBS broadcast, but it took the network several days to even acknowledge any problems with the story, and then finally disown it, with a brief and unrevealing Logan apology on air two weeks later.

Most significantly, judging from Stein’s article, he managed to speak with Logan’s husband, the mystery man of Stein’s title, whose background includes a stint with the Lincoln Group, a company that the Pentagon, under Donald Rumsfeld, hired to supply fake positive news during the Iraq War. I relish the vision of Stein talking his way past Logan & Burkett’s front door, before, I assume, he was asked to leave. I recommend you read Stein’s whole story, but here’s the final portion as a sample:

“So why did Logan put that story on the air? Her pro-military bias is as well known, but so is her mettle – she’s worked in some of those most dangerous parts of war-ravaged Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt, where she was sexually assaulted by a mob. She won an Emmy for one of her Iraq reports. In other words, she’s a smart, tough, experienced reporter. And the producer and writers and reporters who helped her put this Benghazi story together are honored, respected professionals, many of whom have been covering the region for years. Whoever fooled them, whoever convinced them that al Qaeda orchestrated that attack on the U.S. embassy, had to be smart, incredibly persuasive and savvy about the media. And unquotable. In other words, an intelligence source. And the person closest to Logan with those credentials is her husband. But he’s not talking.”

Did Burkett have an uncredited role in producing Logan’s story? Stein’s story makes me wonder. That would be a big deal.

The contrast between CBS’s veritable stonewalling on Logan’s flawed report, and their total repudiation of Dan Rather’s “60 Minutes II” story on George W. Bush’s National Guard records–which despite errors, actually had many accurate elements–is striking. In 2004, the network appointed a blue-ribbon panel to study what went awry and fired producer Mary Mapes. In the current instance, there’s been no public airing of what wrong, and no one, least of all Logan, has been dismissed or publicly criticized. There’s also been no public admission that “60 Minutes” has a corporate sibling relationship with Threshold Editions, the conservative book imprint at fellow Viacom company Simon & Schuster, that published (and then withdrew) the fraudulent “witness’s” book. Did Logan allow her personal agenda, or that of her husband John Burkett, to color her reporting? We may never know, unless and until CBS becomes more transparent on this troubling incident.

A bit of humor to close . . .

On a lighter note, I also have to give props to Jeff Stein for a keen cinematic reference in his story, likening John Burkett as a “puffer” to Steve McQueen’s character in “Solider in the Rain” (1963), with Jackie Gleason, based on the fine novel by William Goldman.

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October 6th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Media, Blogging, Internet; News, Politics & History

Questioning the Critical Reaction to Ben Urwand’s “The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact w/Hitler”

The CollaborationReaders here may recall I’ve previously written about Ben Urwand’s book  The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler. The first time was last June, in Still More to Learn about Corporations’ Complicity with the Third Reich, after the NY Times’ Jennifer Schuessler wrote a preview story on Urwand, a young Australian* scholar, and his thesis: that major Hollywood studios, including many of its key moguls including Jack Warner, Samuel Goldwyn, and Louis B. Mayer, worked with the Third Reich to make their movies acceptable to the Nazis, thus permitting them to continue being shown to German audiences. Urwand contends this “collaboration” started before WWII, and continued during the war itself. The book has now been officially published, and as I expected, there is criticism of it and the author. I know from my involvement with independent scholar Edwin Black‘s IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation (2001), that writers who tackle big targets get the most criticism. Moreover, Urwand is something of an unconventional scholar–he holds no teaching position, is a Junior Fellow of of the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, and has a biography that includes time spent as a member of the successful rock n’ roll band, The Attachments.

Vociferous criticism has come from New Yorker film critic David Denby, and film historian David Thomson. I respect both of them as writers, but Denby’s claim that much of what’s in the book was already known, is not accurate. Urwand’s sources included archives and business records that no English-speaking historian had ever worked with, so how can the book fail to contain new material? Even if it were correct, can there no new interpretations of previously examined events? Though I don’t agree with the jaded Denby or the skeptical Thomson, I don’t consider them to be arguing in bad faith.

However, some of the other commentary has been way over the top, and coming from questionable sources replete with big credibility issues. For instance, a grandniece of Louis B. Mayer, Alicia Mayer,* who keeps the family flame burning with a website called Hollywood Essays, is campaigning to discredit Urwand’s book, and is getting some coverage doing so. Outlets covering her should ask about and report on the large personal stake she has in seeing her great-uncle exonerated by history. Her comments ought to be viewed with great skepticism. There is a slight hysteria in her attitude, as in the opening line of one piece, she pleads with readers: “I need your help. Imagine for a moment that your family has been accused of collaborating with Hitler and the Nazis.” Her plaint doesn’t address the substance of the book, only suggests how horrible is to be a descendant of someone accused of bad conduct in business. In a bizarre twist, she’s even going after the publicity firm that’s working with Urwand and Harvard University Press:

“After a cunning and manipulative pre-launch campaign by Goldberg McDuffie Communications (GMC) for Ben Urwand’s The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler, which resulted in odd, gushing ‘reviews’ for the book back in late June, the tide has now turned and negative reviews (scroll down) are flowing just as the book is released. Even as an editor, it never occurred to me that book publicity could have a dark side but Lynn Goldberg, Megan Beatie and Kathleen Zrelak of GMC have orchestrated interviews, coverage and appearances for the perennially grim-looking Urwand, that will in hindsight appear unworthy at best, and sinister at worst.”

This is weird, ad hominem crap that should utterly disqualify the party slinging the stuff from being taken at all seriously.

An underlying subtext here, which probably explains some of the vituperation directed toward Urwand, is that while he is himself Jewish, some people question his motives in laying blame on the men that ran some of the big studios, who happened to be Jewish, as if no co-religionist should find fault with a fellow member of the tribe. Such parochial defensiveness is an extreme response to a scholar’s work. Personal unease over the charge that Jewish moguls in Hollywood let personal self-interest drive their policy toward the Third Reich is blinding some critics from giving a fair reading to Urwand’s book.

There’s even one attack from a blogger* who seeks to call in to question Urwand’s Jewishness because it was reported he ate a lobster salad (non-kosher) during an interview with a reporter. Alicia Mayer, along with Denby demanded that Urwand’s Harvard University Press withdraw the book from distribution, “correct” it according to their reading of it, and then only then re-release it! Were such steps ever taken it would be an appalling abuse of free speech and the moral right of an author to follow historical evidence and publish the results as they see fit.

Urwand and his book do have defenders. Among them are Sir Richard Evans, Regius Professor of History and President of Wolfson College at Cambridge University, a leading figure in the study of 20th Century Germany. He endorsed The Collaboration with the statement below that is printed on the book and continues to defend it vigorously, especially on his twitter feed, @RichardEvans36.

“Full of startling and surprising revelations, presented in exemplary fashion, without any moralizing or sensationalism. The Collaboration shows how Hollywood and especially the big studios went along with German demands to censor movies not only before but especially after the Nazi seizure of power.” 

I will continue to write about Urwand’s book in the weeks to come, as I complete my own reading of it. Meantime, here’s a video of Urwand discussing his work.

 * Oddly, Australia is a recurring motif here, as Urwand, Alicia Mayer, and the blogger who questioned why Urwand was eating lobster salad are all from Australia. Please note I have chosen not to link to the websites of Alicia Mayer and the other blogger from Australia. 

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