Friday, November 30, 2007

Factchecking, or pandering to the rumor crowd?

The Obama/Muslim rumor story certainly is getting a lot of play, these days, but not so much in the major media, aside from the Doonesbury series a couple weeks ago. But this week the Washington Post tackled the story, with dismal results. Foes Use Obama's Muslim Ties to Fuel Rumors About Him.

Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles summarizes, in a contrarian way....

In text, The Guardian's Comment is Free has the best summarization of the reaction from blogs and other media, with lots of links: Reporting Rumor and Innuendo.

I love the lead-in to this quote (my emphasis):
The fact-based portion of the web responded fiercely. The estimable Digby at her Hullabaloo website said "it might have been a teensy bit better if they'd simply written that it's a lie and let it go at that. ... According to the Washington Post, 'Republicans say Barack Obama is a Muslim and Obama says he isn't' is a legitimate story. Modern campaign journalism in all its glory."

It's sad when the 'fact-based portion of the Web' isn't a major newspaper's story. But it's typical of the hand-wringing, too-sensitive editorial decisions going on at times in the media. Trying too hard not to offend anyone, they offend everybody.

I'm watching the public flagellation over the questioners at the last Republican 'debate', too. So, a questioner is connected with a Democratic campaign. So what? Shouldn't any American be able to ask a question at one of these things? Should all the questioners be 'friendly'? Why should CNN 'regret' their not vetting questioners better?

We are getting entirely too hung up in details over this presidential campaign. Can't we stick to the real issues? I'm tired of the candidates' attacks on each other. All of them.

Meanwhile, at least one attack does seem to have merit, the questioning over Giuliani's mayoral expenditures used on his then-mistress. Bill Clinton got attacked furiously for his sexual indiscretions, but the only attention to Giuliani's seems to be one-sided, from Talking Points Memo and other progressive blogs.

At least the New York Times has come out with an impressive piece analyzing all of Giuliani's statistical pronouncements and finding lots of errors and diversions: Citing Statistics, Giuliani Misses Time and Again. The Horse's Mouth reacts.

Thank goodness, again, for the media sites that do keep factchecking the candidates and the media: Politifact, The Washington Post's Factchecker, and

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Water woes

At Critical Miami, a discussion of sorts on how not to waste water, including a description of an Australian water-saving toilet that actually makes sense. (I've never understood the antipathy against low-flush toilets: they work just fine, and on the rare times you have to flush twice, still save water over the old models.)

At any rate, thinking about this should, I'd think, come naturally to anyone who's spent time enduring Florida's regular droughts. I learned there, long ago, during low water times, to keep a dishpan or bucket in the sink to catch rinsing water for watering plants or other uses; same with a bucket in the shower, and flushing less--well, at least until we got a cat that likes to drink from the bowl....

But, it doesn't come naturally to many people. Take Georgia gov. Sunny Perdue. Or take these guys in Palm Beach, in this Wall Street Journal story, who use more water in a day than most of us use in a year. Or this guy in Atlanta, in this New York Times story. What are they thinking?
A homeowner in Marietta, Ga., used 440,000 gallons in September, or about 14,700 gallons a day. By comparison, the average consumption in the United States is about 150 gallons a day per person, and in the Atlanta metropolitan area about 183 gallons...
...Consider Nelson Peltz. The investor and food magnate's oceanfront estate, called Montsorrel, is among the island's biggest water consumers. His 13.8-acre spread, which combines two properties, used not quite 21 million gallons of water over the past 12 months -- or about 57,000 gallons a day on average -- at a cost of more than $50,000, according to records obtained from the local water utility. That compares with 54,000 gallons a year for an average single-family residence in Palm Beach...

Over at Fragments from Floyd, Fred First reminds us that it takes a lot of water to make electricity too (not to mention ethanol). It's all part of the same problem, folks: we have too many people using too many resources. We all have to think about cutting back, all the time.

Waterblogged and Fred First also mention a story about a new planned water park in Arizona that seems like a crazy idea. Well, maybe crazy, but contagious, I guess, because a city near Chattanooga has just approved a new water park there. There's still water in the Tennessee River, but the Tenn. Valley is in the middle of severe drought too. What are people thinking?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Reaction to news chronologies

There's a fascinating rant going on on the Miami Herald website, where editors revived a chronology of tragedies involving University of Miami players (and former players) to go with the story about the murder of former UM and Redskins player Sean Taylor. The chrono, first published last year when UM player Bryan Pata was murdered, was written by Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson: Recent UM Tragedies.

The vitriol in the comments is shocking, from personal attacks on Jackson to pleas that the Miami Herald stop drawing negative portraits of UM and its athletic teams. Obviously most commentors are rabid UM fans and want to hear only good about the program. But why should a straightforward list of other events draw such hatred?

Should editors rethink assigning sidebars like this to a tragic story? Does it do anything to help readers to remind them of other tragedies? My thought has always been that readers will ask themselves how many times something like this has happened, and rely on their newspaper to give them that background. But when does it become construed as an attack? Where is the middle ground on something like this?

Over the years I pulled together LOTS of chronologies like this for the Herald, usually at the last minute when an editor suddenly decided a story merited a sidebar, fearful as I hustled that I'd miss some important events because of lack of time to check and recheck. I have to admit some of these requests made me a bit queasy, just because I didn't see the point in digging up a barely related past. I guess there are times when that hesitation shouldn't be ignored.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bradlee: still got it

Wonderful interview with the 86-year-old Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee in Radar, by Charles Kaiser: Ben Behaving Bradlee; The Grumpy Legend of American Journalism sounds off on JFK, Watergate, Iraq, Hillary Clinton, and Carl Bernstein's strange choice in women.

Shows Bradlee's still making shocking statements. Like this one, on what Rubert Murdoch might do with the Wall Street Journal:
I think [Rupert] Murdoch is a better journalist than the rest of you do....Well, I think because he's smart, and he's not going to fill it up with pussy stories.

There's much more. Like, why he likes Hillary Clinton (and his wife Sally Quinn doesn't); what he knew about JFK's womanizing (oh, and Bernstein's, of course); why he replaced Al Friendly as Washington Post managing editor (in my first year there, I think); on the journalism stars he brought to the Post, and on, of course, Katherine and Philip Graham.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007

Weekend update: research links from the week

This last couple weeks there has been little to note, but here are a few things I saved links to this week and last, including this magazine article:
The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush, by Joseph Stiglitz in Vanity Fair.
When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

The links:

  • PDR Health, new health and medicine reference site from publisher of Physicians' Desk Reference.
  • History of Flight, searchable timesline from Centennial of Flight commission.
  • Camp Delta Standard Operating Procedure, Dept of Defense Guantanamo Bay docs, archived at Archive-It.

  • Metro Nation, Brookings' study on American Prosperity focuses on metropolitan areas and their contribution to the economy and culture.

    Governments, Politics:
  • Tax Cuts: Myths and Realities from Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

  • Covering Crime and Justice, textbook guide from Criminal Justice Journalists.
  • ABC's eCirc from Audit Bureau of Circulation, free site offering basic circulations numbers for newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals.

  • Global personal taxation comparison survey – market rankings
  • Baghdad Bonanza: The Top 100 Private Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, Part II of Center for Public Integrity's Windfalls of War investigation.

  • Search TV Listings, guide to several sites with various searches, from Resourceshelf.
  • Oodle, a new classifieds directory on the Web.

    Public Records:
  • Legal Threats Database collection of legal threats directed at online speech.

  • On the other blog:

    Wild turkeys and snow on the mountains.

    Sunday, November 18, 2007

    Post blogs

    Just noticed from the Washington Post's front page, a new blog by the Investigations team: Washington Post Investigations. It appears it will add info to ongoing investigations reports, as well as follow up on past stories.

    Also noted: Post Mortem, a blog by the obituary writers' team, which adds info to current obits and notes ones, or related stories, at other papers. These posts are identified by writer. I thought the investigations blog posts should be, too.

    I know other papers have investigations blogs and certainly the obit blog was perfected by Jade Walker's Blog of Death, but the Post's contributions are worth checking out.

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    Saturday, November 17, 2007

    Fairchild weekend

    Of the times I think I wouldn't mind being in Miami again (there aren't many), it's always this weekend in November (a bit later than usual?), when Fairchild Tropical Garden has its Ramble. Just take a look at the things you can do there. It's one of the most beautiful places in Miami, and in weather like this (cool mornings, warm afternoons), just perfect. If you're there: go, buy plants, listen to the Waterpoorter, eat conch fritters, walk through the Rain Forest and get some antiques, herbs, books, t-shirts or art.

    It was seven years ago this week that I missed the Ramble for the first time in years because I was putting together my website and published it for the first time. It included a blog-like page that I intended to update once a week, and did for a couple years, with occasional mid-week additions, until I switched to Blogger format in August 2002. So, beginning an eighth year blogging my news research links. Are you still listening?

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    A worthwhile diversion

    Via Americablog, a link to a site worth visiting regularly: Poem of the Week, from Tim Gunn. The selection is timely and the descriptions informative. Among the recent poems, Dorothy Parker's Resume, Wilfred Owens' Dulce et decorum est, and James Wright's Autumn Begins in Martin's Ferry, Ohio:
    In the Shreve High football stadium,
    I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
    And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
    And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
    Dreaming of heroes.

    All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
    Their women cluck like starved pullets,
    Dying for love.

    Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
    At the beginning of October,
    And gallop terribly against each other's bodies.


    Also recently posted here, Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, one of the few poems I loved enough to memorize in full. Gunn says:
    The poem is proof of a couple of things: 1) a poem doesn't have to make sense to be enjoyable; and 2) they had mind-altering drugs in Victorian England.

    Friday, November 16, 2007

    No lack of recipes for this holiday

    Sheila Lennon has collected links to Thanksgiving recipes in newspaper food pages this week. What a wealth of wonderful recipes! Some of the best are in Lennon's Providence Journal. Today she's added links to more papers, including the Miami Herald, which has again my favorite Cuban Roast Turkey recipe, from Linda Cicero. Been making this one, with variations (sin bacon), since about 1987, when Linda first perfected it (along with Ana Veciana). I do mine on a Weber charcoal kettle, outdoors. Rain or snow.

    Need more? There are thousands of recipe sites, and places like Tara Calishain's Cookin' with Google to search for them, or just try one of the all-in-one recipe sites like's

    The newspaper recipes, though, are fascinating just to compare cities by their food choices. Miami's, of course, tend to Caribbean flavors. Los Angeles' are gourmet fancy (cipollini, chanterelle, cognac); in Duluth, though, the emphasis is on 'super sides', from baked 'bagas to lots of sweet potatos.

    Thursday, November 15, 2007

    Data delivery

    I recently commented on a Poynter posting by Ken Sands about newspapers' data collections and the new jobs being created to organize them.

    Since then, Northwestern's Rich Gordon has written an essay for the Readership Institute, Data as journalism, journalism as data. Gordon, a pioneer in thinking about how newspapers should be using data, has an interesting look back at how this trend has evolved and who's working and thinking on it, including Gannett and its 'information center' concept.

    He focuses on the Indianapolis Star and its Data Center, created by talented staff including Michael Jesse, long a new media star in the news library world.

    Fascinating stuff. Says Gordon:
    While changes in audience behavior and the business of media are creating tough times for news organizations these days, online databases offer new ways of engaging audiences and delivering quality journalism that people need and value.

    He points to a story in Newspaper Next, with links to and descriptions of lots of newspaper data projects. I started keeping track of newspaper database collections when I heard of them, but hadn't made a dedicated effort to finding all of them. MaryJo at Pioneer Planet sent me several after my recent posting; I've updated the list here. Now I need to go thru the Newspaper Next list and see which others I've missed.

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    Who's in control of this drought?

    It's discouraging to turn on CNN this morning and hear a discussion of whether Gov. Sonny Purdue's drought prayer on the capitol steps brought the little rain that hit Atlanta last night. It was pretty predictable, of course, that the media would grab on to this 'feel-good' story. But, as Huffington Post's Eat the Press asks:
    Still, of all the questions a news organization could put to their readers about the drought — how should Georgia and Florida resolve their conflict over water? Do you think the country is ignoring this crisis? Have you been conserving water in your own home state as a result of the drought? — CNN chose to ask if their readers thought prayer would work.

    Well, it could be worse. In my local weekly, a religious columnist (not online, unfortunately -- or fortunately?) claims the drought is due to "rebellion, which is simply refusing to be under God's authority."

    But the real questions here remain, as in this Reuters article via MSNBC, Southeast drought not just about mussels, linked by R.Neal in this column at Facing South:
    The drought plaguing parts of at least seven U.S. states in the Southeast has to do with exploding demand in some of the fastest growing areas of the United States, breakneck urban development that has paved over acres of natural wetlands, and poor planning by local authorities.
    ..."Our political leadership has blinkers on when it comes to anything that might get in the way of unrestricted development."
    ...the land in the urban U.S. Southeast is increasingly unable to act as a sponge to store the rainfall as it disappears beneath concrete and tarmac. Around 55 acres are paved over in Atlanta each day, environmentalists say.

    If we're going to pray to God to do something about this he needs to start with Georgia's political leaders....or better yet, Georgians need to do something about them themselves. It's absolutely unconscionable that Georgia went into this very predictible drought for months and months with NO water restrictions or at least guidelines.

    The photo: marina on Lake Hiwassee, out of business most of this summer for lack of water in the lake. Hiwassee is part of the TVA system, in trouble with drought too, so doesn't feed the Atlanta area, but there could be future demands....

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    Wednesday, November 14, 2007

    Tit for Tat

    I'm fascinated by this column by Peter Berkowitz in Opinion Journal: The Insanity of Bush Hatred.
    Bush hatred, however, is distinguished by the pride intellectuals have taken in their hatred, openly endorsing it as a virtue and enthusiastically proclaiming that their hatred is not only a rational response to the president and his administration but a mark of good moral hygiene.
    ...Recognizing the common heritage that provides the ground for so many of the disagreements between right and left today will encourage both sides, if not to cherish their opponents, at least to discipline their passions and make them an ally of their reason.

    I certainly can't dispute any call for more reasonable public discourse, but....this column could have been written 10 years ago discussing 'Clinton hatred'. I don't see much difference. Or is the difference that this time, it's the 'intellectuals' who hate what is going on? (And let's not forget these bridge players.)

    And, this time it's really a reaction to what has been done in our name, to our country and its reputation. And things like this (yeah, it's Cheney, not Bush, but they seem to be interchangable). Clinton hatred seemed to be a personal thing.

    Andrew Sullivan responds, in The Sanity Of Bush Hatred:
    Hatred is a strong word and a clouding emotion. But sustained outrage isn't. One can forgive any president for mistakes - even catastrophic mistakes, as in the intelligence for and execution of the Iraq war. But to have trashed the constitution's balance, violated core values of due process and decency, polluted our intelligence in ways that deeply undermine national security, and deliberately divided a country for partisan advantage in wartime - these are not mere mistakes. And anger is not an irrational, let alone, insane response.

    And Bob Cesca, at Huffington Post: American Patriotism Crushed By Republican SUVs.


    Tuesday, November 13, 2007

    On the other blog:

    Fall color update.

    Monday, November 12, 2007

    On the other blog:

    Studio open house at Asheville's River Arts District.

    Research for a good cause

    Don't miss this wonderful story by the Miami Herald's Ana Veciana: Ann McFadden is a detective of death.

    McFadden was doing some genealogical research several years back and found that it was nearly impossible to find a newspaper obituary because news libraries didn't index them or didn't have staff to research them. So she decided to create her own obituary index.

    I've run into some of McFadden's indexes while compiling lists of local research online sites. She's done indexes of about 120 years of Miami newspaper obituaries, cemetery indexes, and works with the Miami-Dade Public Library to index other news clipping files, too.
    "She's done a phenomenal amount of indexing that makes our job 100 times easier," says John Shipley of the library's Helen Muir Florida Collection. "Ann is my hero."

    It's hard to put a value on this sort of work but people who've worked with unindexed news files in the old days know that this work is precious. There's nothing more disturbing than not being able to get access to past news that you know is there somewhere. What a contribution to our history, especially as the work is basically unpaid. I hope there are other researchers doing this but I wish there were money to fund things like this, too.

    Luckily the digitization of old newspaper microfilm files continues and more and more papers are becoming available, but access is not always easy, even then.

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    Last week's research links and David Simon, again

    Just a few things from last week, and a link from Sheila Lennon that relates to something I posted a while back: An interview with The Wire's David Simon, at More insight from Simon, the former Baltimore Sun reporter:
    The newsroom where I used to work (the Baltimore Sun) had 460 people. Now it has 300. And there are people out there who just don’t care. They’ll make more money putting out a mediocre paper than they would putting out a better paper. They know this. It's their equation. They’re quite content with mediocrity.
    And within that culture we have people that are saying, ‘oh no, we’re going to do more with less,’ which is one of the great lies of the 21st century. What it means is we’re going to less with less. And that’s the nature of what journalism is becoming.
    ...Newspapers became vulnerable and it was only exacerbated by the fact that no one I ever saw at any of the newspapers -- with the exception of maybe of The Wall Street Journal -- anticipated the internet.

  • Booksearch from Kokogiak, searches fulltext books at, and MSN Live Search - at the same time.
  • Corporate Fraud Database from, reviews records of Corporate Fraud Task Force approached on its five-year anniversary.
  • Disciplinary Actions, links to state and association searches, including teacher discipline, physicians, law firms, brokers, etc. from Virtual Chase's people search links database.
  • Technology Timeline from AT&T Labs. Good history of telephones and telecommunication, and other breakthroughs.
  • Christmas Carols Database from AskSam. Browse or search lyrics online, or download database to AskSam reader.
  • MarketWikis: find free market research by category.
  • will allow "users to browse, search, and review hundreds of thousands of pages acquired through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other public disclosure, or “sunshine,” laws." Just launched.

  • Monday, November 05, 2007

    A sticky question for newspapers

    Just as the New York Times is beginning to allow comments on its stories (see public editor Clark Hoyt's column, Civil Discourse, Meet the Internet), a Miami blogger has decided that the Miami Herald should eliminate them. Here's Rick at Stuck on the Palmetto, Online Newspapers Should Just Dump The Comments:
    I say get rid of the them. Period. They're not needed and are nothing but sounding boards for the racists, bigots and attention-starved idiots out there in the virtual world.
    ...Initially, I thought that it was a good idea, but it has become very apparent that people aren't able to act like responsible adults.

    Good luck to The Times. Since comments will be moderated, at least the worst won't get through. The Herald does remove comments but the tone is often unpleasant, even with that. Is it a reflection of life in south Florida?

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    Weekend update: More research links

    (My Internet connection has been terrible for a week or so and seems to be getting worse. Although I sent this post to Blogger more than an hour ago it doesn't seem to have registered. Trying again.)
    I posted a couple of these earlier, but just for the record, along with other good things found in last week or so:

  • Great posting on online fulltext book collections with great links, from Resourceshelf.
  • links to great mp3s from the Internet Archive's live music recording archive, along with occasional links to other folk music sites.
  • Global Compendium of Weeds
  • Brijit summarizes magazine articles from over 100 titles. (And some newspapers.)

  • Finding old Web pages, a guide from Search Engine Showdown.
  • Veropedia, online encyclopedia containing only verified articles from Wikipedia.

  • Archive-it California Wildfires archive, searchable collection of websites with 2007 fire info.

    Public Records:
  • WikiFOIA, 'The wiki for helping people understand and use the Freedom of Information Act at the state and local level.'
  • Virginia Circuit Court case information, by county.
  • Roanoke Times (VA): Datasphere local interest databases and public records like courts, lobbyists, medical professional discipline.
  • Rochester, NY Democrat & Chronicle: RocDocs. Mostly local interest databases but includes a few public records on crime, statewide and local real estate and school databases.

  • Friday, November 02, 2007

    This makes me sad

    From Juan Antonio Giner, (via Greenslade): The Miami Herald Has a Problem, forecasting a dismal circulation loss report.
    As of 2004, The Herald was the country’s 24th-largest newspaper, with a Sunday circulation of 447,326.
    Today it’s the 32nd in the same raking, selling more than 100,000 copies less on Sundays than three years ago.
    Once one of the 10 best newspapers of the U.S., now The Herald is one of the most problematic newspapers in the country.


    Thursday, November 01, 2007

    'Hippie Museum'

    Since the flap over Hillary Clinton's support for an earmark of $1 million to help with construction of a museum celebrating the 1969 Woodstock Festival, a good time to learn what it's really about. Joel Achenbach went to the site to find out, and here's his story in the Washington Post: A Museum On Woodstock, With a Haircut.
    BETHEL, N.Y. -- It rises from the hilltop, bigger than a barn, built of stone and roofed in copper. Officially it will be the Museum at Bethel Woods, and it will be focused on the Woodstock festival, the "three days of peace and music" that took place here in August 1969. But the museum has been tagged by critics with a different name: the Hippie Museum.
    ...In this rural area, the project is seen as crucial to the economic recovery of a region hammered by the closing of once-popular Borscht Belt tourist resorts.
    ..."It's definitely not a celebration of hippiedom," said Darrell Supak, a former Army colonel who was wearing a blue pinstripe suit and polished burgundy shoes as he greeted a visitor at the entrance to the museum.

    There's more about Joel's trip on his Achenblog .
    Plus, bonus link, Joel on Dennis Kucinich and UFOs.
    Bonus Kucinich link: Scott Raab, in Esquire, great profile from a Clevelander's perspective: It's Kucinich Time.