Paul Simon, 1928-2003

Paul Simon, who represented Illinois in the Senate back in from 1985 until 1997, died today. With our usual attention to substance, we in the media remember he wore a bow tie, had big ears, big glasses and a deep voice. He started as a crusading newspaperman, spent nearly two decades in the state Legislature and won recognition for his independence from the Daley machine, then lost a run for a governor to a Democratic primary opponent who not only turned out to be a charlatan but eventually was sent to prison. Anyway, he eventually made it to the House, then the Senate and onto the presidential campaign trail. He was a practical liberal who wanted to do something about schools and jobs and health care and open government (and budget deficits and violence in the media, too). And he seemed like a decent and honest guy, too — almost too decent and honest to have thrived in his chosen profession. A sad passing.

War Blogs

Two good ones:

This one from British journalist Stuart Hughes, who survived a mine explosion in Iraq and has gone on to do a video blog from a reporting trip to Cambodia.

And this one from Kevin Sites, former CNN and current MSNBC news producer who’s written some good from-the-front stuff on his personal blog.

Both links through BoingBoing.

A Cruel Hoax

Or maybe just a semi-amusing one. Here are two improbable wire service leads playing off today’s news about the Bowl Championship Series controversy. I admit I wrote them to snare a University of Southern California football fanatic in my newsroom — I was pretty sure he’d actually believe them, at least for a few minutes.

Schwarzenegger Says BCS ‘Bad for People of California’


Filed at 8:44 a.m. ET

SACRAMENTO — Seizing on the popular outrage sweeping voter-rich Southern California in the wake of Sunday’s surprise exclusion of USC from the national championship football game next month, newly elected Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promised an investigation of a computer system he declared was “bad for the people of Colly-for-nya.”

Bush: BCS ‘Worse than Saddam’


Filed at 8:44 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON — Declaring that the inclusion of the University of Oklahoma in next month’s Sugar Bowl “a national outrage,” President Bush recalled special envoy Paul Bremer from Baghdad to deal with the BCS controversy.

“In the eyes of the world, America is about fair play,” the president said. “The BCS decision keeping the Trojans out of the national championship — well, it’s worse than anything Saddam ever did and I think it’s got nothing to do with democracy.”

But although he has recalled Bremer, his top troubleshooter, to handle the football mess, the president denied reports he’s considering redeploying U.S. troops from Baghdad to seize the rogue BCS computers.

Notes: This is a dangerous thing to do in any newsroom. As unlikely as it seems, something like this, once floated, can take on a life of its own and find its way to publication or to air. Bad. –I did take pains to plant clues that these were hoaxes. The phonetic spelling of California. The suggestion that Bush was responding to reports of a troop redeployment to seize the BCS computers. –The intended targets and (distressingly) a couple others did bite on the stories. My surmise: Part I: That they didn’t really do more than scan the first few words and hurry over the rest of what was there. The format looks right. Some of the right names and words are there. Sold. Part II: That we all encounter too much that really is unbelievable — yet turns out to be true, somehow — that we start out better than half-willing to believe the next amazing tale.


Michael Jackson story: Is it really that big? Saturation coverage of his arrest raises questions about America’s obsession with celebrity. [Christian Science Monitor | Top Stories]

I’ve got an answer for the question posed above. And so do the rest of you. Of course it’s not a big deal, except to the accused and accuser. But there’s something a lot darker involved in this than mere obsession with celebrity. Our media — and I’ve got that particular species of blood on my hands — are obsessed with what they guess their viewers/readers/listeners want to see/read/hear. And the assumption is the sensational, the titillating, the simply diverting takes precedence in the audience mind.

The day of The Jackson Arrest, Our President was in London to hang with his best War on Terrorism buddy. Al Qaida was in Istanbul, turning loose all manner of chaos on the streets. In our newsroom at TechTV, we had CNN tuned in most of the day, as we do every day. In the midst of The Jackson Hysteria, it seemed the real serious newsfolks down there in Atlanta could barely find a way to get the Istanbul news on the air. Everyone, even Judy Woodruff, the detestable Tucker Carlson, and the bloated Lou Dobbs were talking all Michael, all the time. It was almost enough to make you laugh.

There might be an obsession at work here. But it’s not the audience that’s obsessed.


What Helps, and What Doesn’t

Will laws make spam go away? Not likely, though they can make it more expensive and painful for the spammer who gets caught.

But some legal solutions are actually harmful. Congress’s latest handiwork actually makes life a little easier for spammers. It does that by overriding tougher state laws, like California’s. But it passed by a big margin. Because lots of people think any anti-spam bill is a step. Where? In the right direction. Yeah. Roads. Good intentions. Paving contractors. Hell.