Curmudgeon Notes 12.31.13

CBS’ 60 Minutesbroadcast an uncritical presentation of National Security Agency’sjustifications for its constitutionally suspect surveillance of Americans.

Dec 31, 2013 at 10:06 am
click to enlarge More exclusives, less editing
More exclusives, less editing

• CBS’ 60 Minutes broadcast an uncritical presentation of National Security Agency’s justifications for its constitutionally suspect surveillance of Americans. CBS allowed no critical voices. Maybe we should blame the narrator, John Miller. He told viewers, "Full disclosure: I once worked in the office of the director of National Intelligence, where I saw firsthand how secretly the NSA operates." Not quite full, according to London’s Guardian. Miller also is a former FBI spokesman.  Other news media said Miller was returning to NYPD where he also formerly worked. 

Or we could blame Jeff Fager, who also was responsible for the false 60 Minutes program on the lethal terrorist raid on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Fager is CBS News president and executive producer. After the October Benghazi screwup, he suspended the reporter and producer, saying, however, As executive producer I am responsible for what gets on the air.” I assume that also covers crucial decisions on the NSA segment.  

The Enquirer reported that “28-year-old Lorenzo Hudson” was killed in a Millvale shooting. One paragraph later, the paper cautioned readers that “police have not identified the victim.” That’s OK. The story tells us twice the unidentified Lorenzo Hudson was shot to death. 

Enquirer’s Josh Pichler explains the much-reviled silence of corporate leaders in the public debate over the street car project. It reads like Cincinnati Civility meets Omerta. He wrote: 

The truth is top executives privately went to (then) Mayor Mark Mallory and suggested the city either delay construction until a more solid financing plan was in place, or build the first phase in Clifton, where it would likely generate more ridership and momentum for eventually expanding into Downtown. The administration said no, construction began and executives moved on to other priorities, including seeking support for Cintrifuse, the regional initiative to support high-growth startups; the new Uptown Interstate 71 interchange; and funding for the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority. Mayors come and go, but only every four years, so executives pick and choose public battles carefully.” 

I’d add that this being Cincinnati, the execs chose civility and silence. Corporate leaders couldn’t support the plans but didn’t publicly oppose the chosen financing and route. 

• Do you miss local TV advertising for robotic surgery? One day, the hospital ads seemed omnipresent. Then whoosh! Gone. It wasn’t because hospitals and surgeons feared losing money. Rather, it was coincidental with news that some of possibly 1,400 Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robotic units might injure patients. 

• Speaking of missing ads, remember local radio and TV ads urging us to buy gold? Recently, gold’s price dropped dramatically and many buyers are stuck with a commodity that earns no interest and is worth less than they paid. An enterprising reporter should ask local dealers how they’re faring with gold jewelry they bought when prices were high. 

• London’s Mail Online had a story and images from the Cincinnati Zoo where young cheetahs are raised with companion pups. As they grow, dogs play with young cheetahs who, the paper said, sometimes have trouble with larger cats. 

• Liz Sidoti, AP’s national political editor, is moving to BP as U.S. head of communications. She started with AP as a relief staffer in Cincinnati in 1999. AP’s internal memo added, “Because her new employer is someone AP covers, she will no longer be involved in any reporting, editing or news management for AP, effective immediately.”

The Economist weekly magazine devotes an entire page to the pitiful state of Kentucky health and Kentuckians’ hostility to Obama even as they actively sign up for insurance under Obamacare. Advocates are careful to refer to it as the Affordable Care Act. 

• James Poniwozik, Time’s TV critic, lists 10 “of the worst things TV did this year.” One echoes my criticism of Lara Logan’s misleading report about the Benghazi consulate killings on CBS News’ 60 Minutes and others include celebrities promoting distrust of vaccination. Here’s what he wrote: 

“The damage done by most of the shows on this list ended the moment you changed the channel. Lara Logan’s credulous interview with a fraudulent ‘witness’ to the killings of Americans in Libya further polarized a political debate and injured the credibility of a TV news institution.” 

He continued, saying, “The View, produced by newswoman Barbara Walters, legitimized the dangerous anti-vaccine crusading of Jenny McCarthy by hiring her as a co-host and rationalizing her undermining public health as one more provocative ‘opinion.’ Later, Katie Couric gave undue legitimacy to critics of the HPV vaccine on her syndicated talk show — and corrected it in a blog post.”

I’d add that Barbara Walters surrendered any claim to “newswoman” with her trash daily TV talk show and Katie Couric did the same with her daily TV talk show. Couric’s correction was a non-correction and her apology was a non-apology.

• Wikipedia offers another reason to doubt its entries. It banned a public relations company called Wiki-PR for conflict-of-interest editing that led Wikipedia to block hundreds of accounts. 

Wikipedia said Wiki-PR edited entries to reflect favorably on Wiki-PR’s paying clients but we have no idea which entries or how long this went on.   

Wikipedia said Wiki-PR was created in 2010 and clients included Viacom and Priceline. Wiki-PR claimed to have administrator access enabling it to manage the Wikipedia presence of more than 12,000 clients. 

Wikipedia said its “investigation of sockpuppet accounts ...  beginning in 2012, implicated hundreds of accounts, with many of the accounts being traced back to Wiki-PR. The use of a company to manage the content of Wikipedia violates several Wikipedia rules.”

Wikipedia quoted Wiki-PR CEO Jordan French telling the Wall Street Journal that “Wiki-PR is a research and writing firm, counseling clients on ‘how to adhere to Wikipedia's rules’.” French also told the Journal that its paid work is part of the “fabric” of Wikipedia, complementing the work of unpaid volunteers but Wiki-PR's editors are “real people and not sockpuppets.”

• I’m so Old Media that I had to turn to for “sock puppet.” The second definition was “a false online identity used for deceptive purposes.” That sounds like astroturfing, when an partisan group falsely pretends to be a grass roots organization. 

• Wikipedia’s indefinite ban (above) covers  all Wiki-PR employees, contractors and owners. The ban may be appealed if Wiki-PR changes its practices “to meet certain standards of transparency and alignment with Wikipedia norms.”  

Nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, also served Wiki-PR a cease-and-desist letter. Wiki-PR CEO Jordan French assured London’s Guardian that Wiki-PR "is working with the Wikimedia Foundation and its counsel to sort this out." 

Wiki-PR’s website says its services include crisis editing and it advises clients “being unfairly treated on Wikipedia” to use Wiki-PR’s Crisis Editing team. It “helps you navigate contentious situations. We'll consult you on Wikipedia's best practices on how to deal with these situations. And help you engage on Wikipedia's back end, so you never have to worry about being libeled on Wikipedia.”

• Another premature obit made news recently. said Gannett’s Nashville Tennessean reported that Ray Price, a country music star, was dead. Wrong. Worse, it came from Price’s son, Cliff, on Facebook. The Tennessean wasn’t the only news medium to go public with the premature obit. Price had pancreatic cancer and died a few days later. 

Family should be a reliable source, but the Enquirer policy traditionally required confirmation from a hospital, cops, coroner or funeral home. This avoided misinformation and hoaxes ... except when reporters and editors skipped that vital step. 

• This must have been a quivering colon moment. E! Online learned it posted a photo of the wrong singer as a brutal pedophile. The story was about Ian Watkins, lead singer of Lostprophets, but E! Online used the photo of Ian Watkins of the band Steps. 

London’s Telegraph said the guilty Watkins “was sentenced to 35 years in prison ... for 13 offenses, including the attempted rape of an 11-month-old baby boy and the abuse of a baby girl. The judge said his ‘horrific’ offenses ‘plumbed new depths of depravity.'”

The innocent Watkins sued and won an undisclosed settlement and apology in London’s High Court.

A couple days after Steps’ Watkins won his libel suit against E! Online, London’s Daily Mail said Google showed a CBS News story about the sentencing of the former Lostprophets singer alongside his photo, with a caption from BBC News. Watkins said on Twitter: "I can't actually tell you how angry and upset I am right now. 'SORT THIS OUT @CBSNews @google !!!! I am very upset ... Again !!!"

Daily Mail said Watkins later posted, “So, it seems @CBSNews are not to blame.....My lawyers are now dealing with @google.” Last week, his agent said, “Ian is astonished that in spite of yesterday's public apology from E! Online, Google have now created far more damaging and far-reaching false and defamatory coverage linking our client to the appalling crimes of the Lostprophets singer.”

No one need be told that the defamatory linking of the innocent Ian Watkins to pedophile Ian Watkins’ crimes will live forever somewhere on the Internet.

• There is no end to headlines written by editors who are unaware or unconcerned for double meanings and bizarre syntax. This is my latest favorite, from London’s Daily Mail

Happy ending for Boston bombing victim who suffered devastating burns after he proposes to the nurse he met in rehab

I wonder what  “happy ending” means for modern Brits and, obviously from the way this headline is written, she was one hot nurse.

• And finally, a friend and former colleague culled this from the Wall Street Journal: "Doctors Eye Cancer Risk in Uterine Procedure: Popular Technique to Remove Growths Comes Under Question."

To which my correspondent gleefully adds, “The American College of Gynecology warned its members today of a hitherto unknown risk of trying to stare down fibroids ..."

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: [email protected]