Wednesday, December 30, 2009

AP wins world brown-nosing championships for 'How Obama saved the world' article

Obama raced clock, chaos, comedy for climate deal
WASHINGTON — It was almost unthinkable. The president of the United States walked into a meeting of fellow world leaders and there wasn’t a chair for him, a sure sign he was not expected, maybe not even wanted.
Barack Obama didn’t pause, however. “I’m going to sit by my friend Lula,” he said, moving toward Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
A Brazilian aide gave the U.S. president his chair, and Obama spent the next 80 minutes helping craft new requirements for disclosing efforts to fight global warming. Along with India, South Africa and Brazil, the key member in the room was China, which recently surpassed the U.S. as the world’s top emitter of heat-trapping gasses.
At the table this time for China was Premier Wen Jiabao, not an underling as before. Obama was bent on striking a deal before flying home to snowbound Washington.
He would later hail the achievement as a breakthrough. But even Obama said there was much more to do, and climate authorities called Copenhagen’s results a modest step in the global bid to curb greenhouse gasses that threaten to melt glaciers and flood coastlines.
Obama’s 15-hour, seat-of-the-pants dash through Copenhagen was marked by doggedness, confusion and semi-comedy. Constrained by partisan politics at home, and quarrels between rich and poor nations abroad, he was determined to come home with a victory, no matter how imperfect.
Experts and activists may debate its significance for years. Some, like Jeremy Symons, who watched the talks for the National Wildlife Federation, said it was “high drama and true grit on the part of the president that delivered the deal.”
Others were far less kind. The Copenhagen agreements are “merely the repackaging of old and toothless promises,” said Asher Miller, executive director of the Post Carbon Institute.
Even though a weary, bleary-eyed Obama had added six hours to his planned nine-hour visit, he was back in Washington by the time delegates at the 193-nation summit approved the U.S.-brokered compromises on Saturday. The agreements will give billions of dollars in climate aid to poor nations, but they do not require the world’s major polluters to make deeper cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions.
This account of Obama’s hectic day is based on dozens of interviews and statements by key players from numerous countries.
Obama was thrown off schedule almost from the moment he landed Friday morning in Copenhagen, where the summit’s final-day talks seemed to be collapsing.
Instead of attending a planned meeting with Denmark’s prime minister, he plunged into an emergency session of about 20 nations, big and small, wealthy and poor. Right away there was a troubling sign.
China was the only nation to send a second-tier official: vice foreign minister He Yafei instead of Premier Wen, who was in the building. The snub baffled and annoyed delegates.
For months, Obama had been pressing China to put into writing its promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Obama later seemed unusually animated when he alluded indirectly to China in a short, late-morning speech to the full conference.
“I don’t know how you have an international agreement where we all are not sharing information and ensuring that we are meeting our commitments,” he said. “That doesn’t make sense.”
Things then appeared to turn for the better, as Obama and Wen met privately, as scheduled, for 55 minutes. A U.S. official said they took a step forward as they discussed emissions targets, financing and transparency.
The two leaders directed aides to work on mutual language, and Obama’s team proposed specific wording meant to solidify China’s promise to be more forthcoming about its anti-pollution efforts.
A short time later, however, the U.S. team was more baffled and irked than before. At a follow-up session of the morning’s big meeting, the Chinese sent an even lower-ranking envoy in Wen’s place.
An irritated Obama told his staff, “I don’t want to mess around with this anymore, I want to just talk with Premier Wen,” according to a senior administration official who spoke on background to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues.
By now night had fallen, and it was clear Obama would be late getting home. He kept an appointment to discuss arms control with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Meanwhile he asked aides to try to set up a final one-on-one meeting with Wen, and a separate meeting with leaders of India, Brazil and South Africa. He hoped these fast-growing nations, which had been loosely aligned with China on many of the key issues, might influence the Chinese.
Confusion reigned. Chinese officials said Wen was at his hotel and his staff was at the airport. The same was said of top Indian officials, but nothing was clear.
South African President Jacob Zuma agreed to meet with Obama, then canceled when he heard the Indian leader was away, and Brazil would attend only if India did.
The Chinese said Wen could meet with Obama at 6:15 p.m., then changed it to 7 p.m. Obama used the time to talk strategy with the leaders of France, Germany and Great Britain.
Meanwhile, a four-nation negotiating team known as BASIC gathered. The modified acronym reflected its members: Brazil, South Africa, India and China.
Obama was unaware, however, thinking he was going to meet alone with Wen. After some confusion about who had access to the room, White House aides told the president that Wen was inside with the leaders of the three other countries, apparently working on strategy.
“Good,” Obama said as he walked through the door. “Mr. Premier, are you ready to see me?” he called out. “Are you ready?”
Inside he found startled leaders and no chair to sit in.
U.S. officials denied that Obama crashed the party, saying he simply showed up for his 7 p.m. meeting with Wen and found the others there.
Whatever the meeting’s original purpose, Obama used it to help strike an agreement on ways to verify developing nations’ reductions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, a good U.S. ending to their talks with the Chinese.

Obama Slams Security Breach

Reports, Intercepts Suggested Attack Preparations; Multiple Agencies Had Warning

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. had multiple pieces of information about alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, according to senior U.S. officials, including intelligence reports and communications intercepts suggesting a Nigerian was being prepped for a terror strike by al Qaeda operatives in Yemen.
U.S. investigators are pursuing possible links between the Christmas Day airline bomb plot and former Guantanamo Bay prisoners. WSJ's Evan Perez discusses developments in the investigation and possible policy outcomes, in the News Hub.
The intercepts were collected piecemeal by the National Security Agency, which has been monitoring al Qaeda militants in that country, including former Guantanamo detainees believed to be leaders there.
In addition, the father of Mr. Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, Nov. 19, and told of his son's likely radicalization, U.S. officials say. That led to a broader gathering of agencies the next day, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.
But U.S. officials said it isn't clear whether intelligence officials in Washington charged with coordinating such intelligence activities effectively distributed the information gathered in Nigeria.
[Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] Thisday
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab at age 19.
President Obama on Tuesday described these lapses in general terms during a sweeping broadside aimed at his government's intelligence services. Citing a "potential catastrophic breach," he said the warning signs, if heeded, would have prevented the Christmas Day attempted bombing on a Detroit-bound airplane.
"A systemic failure has occurred and I consider that totally unacceptable," the president said, referencing "a mix of human and systemic failure." In his comments, the president cited information "that could have and should have been pieced together."
Officials familiar with a review ordered by Mr. Obama say the connections aren't obvious, except in hindsight, and that there doesn't appear to be a single clear warning that should have set off alarms. But if the information had been brought together before Christmas, Mr. Abdulmutallab likely would have been put on a no-fly list and kept off the plane he tried to destroy, the president said.
U.S. and Yemeni authorities said they are investigating whether the bomb plot was hatched by the former Guantanamo Bay prisoners in Yemen, the claimed source of the attack. That development is likely to hinder the Obama administration's effort to release detainees as it attempts to close the prison.
The lapses, and Mr. Obama's critical comments, will focus fresh attention on the operation of the U.S.'s intelligence agencies, particularly the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, a Washington-based body set up after 9/11 to act as a clearinghouse for terrorism data. The U.S. has spent billions of dollars building systems to detect impending attacks, which appear to have failed in this instance.
It has already set off a round of finger pointing among multiple U.S. agencies still stinging from 9/11 and Iraq-related intelligence failures. According to officials, the NCTC has complained that the CIA didn't provide all the information they had, such as where Mr. Abdulmutallab attended college, while the agencies have said that the counterterrorism center had what it needed to properly assess the threat.
Dennis Blair, the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NCTC, said in a written statement that despite improvements to information sharing, "it is clear that gaps remain, and they must be fixed." The NSA didn't respond immediately to requests for comment.
Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman, said the agency first learned of Mr. Abdulmutallab in November, when his father came to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria. He said the agency helped place the Nigerian in the government's terrorist database, including his extremist connections in Yemen, and also forwarded biographical information to the NCTC.
Felix Onigbinde
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab

"This agency, like others in our government, is reviewing all data to which it had access -- not just what we ourselves may have collected -- to determine if more could have been done to stop Abdulmutallab," he said.
The errors could prove a political problem for Mr. Obama, who spoke for the second day running about the attack, after three days of silence. Over the weekend, other administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, argued that air-security systems had worked in the attack's aftermath. Campaign consultants for potential Republican presidential challengers in 2012 have been waiting for an opportunity to paint the president as a soft on terrorism.
A senior administration official said Mr. Obama's Tuesday statement was prompted by a conference call with Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and other top security officials. The administration's review had uncovered existing "bits and pieces" of information, some of it "incomplete or partial in nature," that taken together constituted an intelligence failure. That included information about the suspect's thinking and his plans, about al Qaeda and its plans, and about potential attacks over the holidays.
The officials said the president stands behind Ms. Napolitano and that her job is secure. A preliminary review ordered by Mr. Obama is due Thursday.

Suspect's Journey

It is rare for a president to publicly reprimand intelligence agencies, particularly when he is relying on them to prosecute two wars. Tuesday's scolding will likely compound an already tense relationship.
The failure to detect the plot out of Yemen is focusing attention on the links between al Qaeda's operations there and the apparently pivotal role in the group played by former Guantanamo Bay detainees.
Several detainees who joined "al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" -- the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen that Monday claimed responsibility for the bombing attempt -- were released under the Bush administration and repatriated to Saudi Arabia. Within a year, many had slipped into Yemen and joined al Qaeda. Some terrorism experts said the Yemen branch was of little consequence until the arrival of the Saudi Guantanamo Bay veterans.
Former Bush administration officials acknowledged Tuesday the concern that detainees released under their watch could have been involved in the plot. But they said the decision was the best of imperfect options.
"It's a serious issue because we were trying to find ways to return detainees to home countries and ultimately close Guantanamo while effectively addressing the long-term security threats from such detainees," said Juan Zarate, a counterterrorism official in Mr. Bush's White House.
Two leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula are Said Ali al-Shihri and Muhammad al-Awfi, Saudi nationals released from Guantanamo in 2007, according to the Pentagon.
At least 11 Saudis released from Guantanamo have joined militant groups in Yemen in recent years, according to al Qaeda statements and Defense Department documents. The extent of their involvement in the plot is now a focus of the FBI's probe.
In a letter to Mr. Obama, Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John McCain of Arizona and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, three prominent supporters of closing Guantanamo, said transferring any more detainees to Yemen is too risky given the Christmas plot.
About 45 of the more than 90 Yemeni prisoners that remain at Guantanamo are cleared for release and likely would be sent home if it weren't for their nationalities, two senior U.S. officials involved in detainee issues said. If the Yemeni security situation doesn't improve, they may end up moved to a Thomson, Ill., prison the U.S. plans to use to hold detainees if Mr. Obama succeeds in closing the prison.
—Elizabeth Williamson contributed to this article. Write to Evan Perez at, Jay Solomon at and Siobhan Gorman at


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Low, Dishonest Decade

The press and politicians were asleep at the switch.

Stock-market indices are not much good as yardsticks of social progress, but as another low, dishonest decade expires let us note that, on 2000s first day of trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 11357 while the Nasdaq Composite Index stood at 4131, both substantially higher than where they are today. The Nasdaq went on to hit 5000 before collapsing with the dot-com bubble, the first great Wall Street disaster of this unhappy decade. The Dow got north of 14000 before the real-estate bubble imploded.
And it was supposed to have been such an awesome time, too! Back in the late '90s, in the crescendo of the Internet boom, pundit and publicist alike assured us that the future was to be a democratized, prosperous place. Hierarchies would collapse, they told us; the individual was to be empowered; freed-up markets were to be the common man's best buddy.
Such clever hopes they were. As a reasonable anticipation of what was to come they meant nothing. But they served to unify the decade's disasters, many of which came to us festooned with the flags of this bogus idealism.
Associated Press
Jack Abramoff

Before "Enron" became synonymous with shattered 401(k)s and man-made electrical shortages, the public knew it as a champion of electricity deregulation—a freedom fighter! It was supposed to be that most exalted of corporate creatures, a "market maker"; its "capacity for revolution" was hymned by management theorists; and its TV commercials depicted its operations as an extension of humanity's quest for emancipation.
Similarly, both Bank of America and Citibank, before being recognized as "too big to fail," had populist histories of which their admirers made much. Citibank's long struggle against the Glass-Steagall Act was even supposed to be evidence of its hostility to banking's aristocratic culture, an amusing image to recollect when reading about the $100 million pay reportedly pocketed by one Citi trader in 2008.
The Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal showed us the same dynamics at work in Washington. Here was an apparent believer in markets, working to keep garment factories in Saipan humming without federal interference and saluted for it in an op-ed in the Saipan Tribune as "Our freedom fighter in D.C."
But the preposterous populism is only one part of the equation; just as important was our failure to see through the ruse, to understand how our country was being disfigured.
Ensuring that the public failed to get it was the common theme of at least three of the decade's signature foul-ups: the hyping of various Internet stock issues by Wall Street analysts, the accounting scandals of 2002, and the triple-A ratings given to mortgage-backed securities.
The grand, overarching theme of the Bush administration—the big idea that informed so many of its sordid episodes—was the same anti-supervisory impulse applied to the public sector: regulators sabotaged and their agencies turned over to the regulated.
The public was left to read the headlines and ponder the unthinkable: Could our leaders really have pushed us into an unnecessary war? Is the republic really dividing itself into an immensely wealthy class of Wall Street bonus-winners and everybody else? And surely nobody outside of the movies really has the political clout to write themselves a $700 billion bailout.
What made the oughts so awful, above all, was the failure of our critical faculties. The problem was not so much that newspapers were dying, to mention one of the lesser catastrophes of these awful times, but that newspapers failed to do their job in the first place, to scrutinize the myths of the day in a way that might have prevented catastrophes like the financial crisis or the Iraq war.
The folly went beyond the media, though. Recently I came across a 2005 pamphlet written by historian Rick Perlstein berating the big thinkers of the Democratic Party for their poll-driven failure to stick to their party's historic theme of economic populism. I was struck by the evidence Mr. Perlstein adduced in the course of his argument. As he tells the story, leading Democratic pollsters found plenty of evidence that the American public distrusts corporate power; and yet they regularly advised Democrats to steer in the opposite direction, to distance themselves from what one pollster called "outdated appeals to class grievances and attacks upon corporate perfidy."
This was not a party that was well-prepared for the job of iconoclasm that has befallen it. And as the new bunch muddle onward—bailing out the large banks but (still) not subjecting them to new regulatory oversight, passing a health-care reform that seems (among other, better things) to guarantee private insurers eternal profits—one fears they are merely presenting their own ample backsides to an embittered electorate for kicking.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

To Salahi or Not to Salahi . . .

The White House gate-crashers have unwittingly bestowed a gift to the language in the form of a richly functional verb.

If, as I do, you live within John Nance Garner "spitting" distance of Washington and you read its fast-disappearing newspapers, then for the last week or two you have been drowned in a Salahi marinade. For those who may have been on vacation on another planet, or are reading this after it has been extracted from a time capsule—what with the American attention span being what it is, time capsules are now retrieved 45 minutes after they are buried—the Salahis are two strange pinheads, one of whom looks like Barbie and the other Fat Ken, who harbor the noble ambition of appearing on a "reality show."
For those who do not know what a reality show is, it is a chance to achieve utterly transient fame by acting like an idiot and embarrassing oneself in front of a charge-coupled device that communicates your indiscretions to the less intelligent population of an entire nation. The Salahis are themselves a charged couple, and perhaps a device, in more ways than one: She looks like she's part neon, and they have begun their encounters with the system of what used to be called justice. To get on the reality show, which, appropriately, does not even exist, they faked their way into the White House, Tareq Salahi, it is presumed, wearing his fake Patek Philippe.
The president and Mrs. Obama are reportedly outraged. Strangely enough, Theodore Roosevelt, who was shot while making a speech, and finished it, was not reported to have been outraged. When Puerto Rican nationalist terrorists attacked Blair House, with three wounded, two dead, and at one point only a machine-gun on the stairs between Harry Truman and assassination, the president was not reported to have been outraged. And when Ronald Reagan, bullet near his heart, was wheeled into the emergency room at George Washington University, he was most likely not outraged—because had he been he likely would not have had the wit to say to his surgeons before he was put under, "I hope you're all Republicans." Apparently, outrage, like attention span and a good deal else, has devolved with American history.
Associated Press
Michaele and Tareq Salahi at the White House.
There may, however, be a Salahi lining in all this pitiable behavior; i.e. a gift to the language in the form of a richly functional verb—to Salahi. We have the Ponzi Scheme, named after the first known originator; Hobson's Choice, named after a livery stable owner who is reported to have said "You can take any horse you want as long as it's the one by the door;" and Melba Toast and Peach Melba, in honor of late 19th- and early 20th-century diet-averse opera star Nellie Melba, who all by herself could have equaled at least three or four of our early 21st-century fashion models (if she could have been convinced to adopt the facial expression of a heroin-addicted captive in a Russian Mafia bordello). Why not to Salahi?
I would like to offer the following to the Oxford English Dictionary, free of charge:
To Salahi: v. U.S. [after 21st century reality-show aspirants Michaele and Tareq Salahi] 1. intrans. to gain entrance to an event or gathering to which one is not invited. "They Salahied into the Bar-Mitzvah even though they didn't know the Goldblatt boy, and ate most of the chopped-liver sculpture of Elvis." Shakespeare, Sonnet MMIX. 2. in a general sense to appear where one is not welcome. "Michael Moore Salahied into George and Laura Bush's second honeymoon to lecture the former president about justice for the undocumented immigrants held at Guantanamo." Chomsky, Profiles in Courage. 3. to forge, fake or pretend, especially in hope of achieving a contemptible or pathetic objective that is simultaneously a comment upon the corruption and distastefulness of a particular individual and society itself. trans. "To elevate his chances of becoming a Chippendales dancer, Arnold Toynbee Salahied a letter of recommendation from Rosa Luxemburg. Al Franken, An Intellectual History of the United States.
If, for example, you sneak into the circus, you cannot be said to have Salahied, because the action is too honorable and direct. It must be accompanied by convoluted and narcissistic scheming that is bound to unravel because of its elemental stupidity. Another use of the expression would be simply to turn it into a noun: "She looks like a Salahi," "They're just Salahis," "It was one of the greatest Salahis ever," or "It takes a Salahi to know a Salahi." And, although not finally, as the speakers of English are a creative lot and may find many fascinating variations, the very notion of Salahi-ing could be lifted to an eye-crossing level were one to speak of "ersatz Salahis," a true puzzle for philosophers, or at least a double negative.
Meanwhile, the Salahis themselves are to be thanked for enriching the language, even if unwittingly (and that's an understatement).
Mr. Helprin, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute, is the author of, among other works, "Winter's Tale" (Harcourt), "A Soldier of the Great War" (Harcourt) and, most recently, "Digital Barbarism" (HarperCollins).


Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bozell: 'Mark Lloyd: FCC Chief Diversity Officer -- And a Liar, Too'

December 15, 2009 08:05 ET

Alexandria, VA – Yesterday in a speech for the Media Access Project (, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chief Diversity Officer Mark Lloyd claimed to refute numerous what he called “exaggerations and distortions” of a wide range of his thoughts, positions and policy prescriptions from what he called a “right-wing smear campaign.”  What Lloyd did was offer numerous falsehoods and denials about things that are undeniably true.

Just some of his many misrepresentations:

LLOYD LIE: That the “right-wing smear campaign” was “distorting my views about the First Amendment.”

TRUTH: From Lloyd’s 2006 book, Prologue to a Farce: Communication and Democracy in America:

"It should be clear by now that my focus here is not freedom of speech or the press.  This freedom is all too often an exaggeration … "[T]he purpose of free speech is warped to protect global corporations and block rules that would promote democratic governance."


That the “right-wing smear campaign” incorrectly asserted that Lloyd is “a supporter of Hugo Chavez.”

TRUTH: Lloyd as the head of the Leadership Council for Civil Rights participating in a panel discussion:

“In Venezuela, with Chavez, is really an incredible revolution - a democratic revolution.  To begin to put in place things that are going to have an impact on the people of Venezuela.  The property owners and the folks who then controlled the media in Venezuela rebelled - worked, frankly, with folks here in the U.S. government - worked to oust him.  But he came back with another revolution, and then Chavez began to take very seriously the media in his country.”


“I am not at the FCC to remove anybody, whatever their color, from power.”

TRUTH: Lloyd at the May of 2005 Conference on Media Reform: Racial Justice:

“Because we have really, truly good white people in important positions. And the fact of the matter is that there are a limited number of those positions. And unless we are conscious of the need to have more people of color, gays, other people in those positions we will not change the problem. We're in a position where you have to say who is going to step down so someone else can have power.”


Brent Bozell, President of the Media Research Center:

“Why are Obama’s leadership picks so incapable of telling the truth? It is not necessary for conservatives to ‘distort’ or ‘smear’ Mark Lloyd. All we have to do is quote him. When we do, he has public meltdowns with hysterical and dishonest accusations.

“Mr. Lloyd, we’re not going to stop talking about you or your record, using that media – the alternative media – you and your radical friends despise so much because you can’t control it.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Newsrooms: Time for Integrity

What's important is the willingness to hold power accountable.

This is a terrible time for newspapers, but the solutions suggested over the last year by the deep thinkers of the floundering industry give one little hope.
Back in September, the ombudsman of the Washington Post, Andrew Alexander, lamented his paper's failure to keep up with conservative outlets after they described footage showing Acorn employees apparently advising people how to evade the law. The Post's slowness on the story, Mr. Alexander wrote, raised the possibility that the paper didn't "pay sufficient attention to conservative media or viewpoints."
Continuing the next day on the newspaper's Web site, he decided that the blame for this unhappy situation lay with the newspaper industry's workforce, which is apparently made up of the wrong kind of people. According to "surveys," Mr. Alexander wrote, "newsrooms . . . are more liberal than the population." Newspapers might mean well, but they are handicapped by their monocultural politics. The obvious answer is to hire for political diversity.
Mr. Alexander's predecessor as ombudsman made the same point in 2008, and it's easy to understand why: It seems to dismiss an embarrassing failure with an uncontroversial idea. Everyone likes diversity, right? And this way no one is really to blame for botched coverage of any sort, least of all newspaper brass. Their intentions are pure, just poorly executed by their annoyingly conformist info-proles.
Ordinarily, such a bad idea would not draw much concern. But it has now been repeated several times in the great organ of journalistic consensus. Clearly they mean it seriously.
Years ago, Mr. Alexander wrote, newspapers achieved racial and gender diversity, and "It's the same with ideology."
Actually, it isn't. Unlike race or gender, people choose their ideologies. What's more, they often change them as they go through life, and they sometimes find that it is to their pecuniary advantage to ditch the embarrassing political enthusiasms of their youth.
Which brings up the problem of Republicans in Name Only. Anyone setting out to appease bias-spotters on the right should know that the conservative movement feels that it is plagued by impostors and fakers, and it won't be satisfied until these RINOs, too, are chased from the newsrooms of the nation.
Then, once all that is taken into account, there's the damnable problem of the bias-spotting left, like the Media Matters for America organization, which has documented the conservative tilt of the press in voluminous detail. How to deal with this? By ignoring it? Isn't that an act of bias on its own?
Besides, there's the mechanics of the job. How is the Post supposed to check up on its reporters' politics? I'm hoping for loyalty oaths and televised hearings, with stiff penalties for employees who refuse to talk or to name names: It would be the perfect spectacle for the end of the newspaper era.
Craziest of all, though, is the prospect of the Post ditching its decades-long pursuit of the grail of objectivity . . . because it got scooped on the Acorn story. If that is all it takes to reduce the Washington Post's vaunted editorial philosophy to ashes, what is the newspaper industry planning to do to atone for its far more consequential failures?
Remember, this disastrous decade saw two of them: First, the news media's failure to look critically at the Bush administration's rationale for the Iraq War; and then, the business press's failure to understand the depth of the subprime mortgage problem and to anticipate its massive consequences.
Would the solution currently on the table—hiring more Republicans and fewer Democrats—have helped the press behave differently in either situation? It's possible, of course, given the right Republicans.
But it is far more likely that it wouldn't have helped at all. To begin with, it would have been unrealistic to expect the press to scrutinize the Bush administration's claims about Iraq more vigorously had it agreed with the administration more. Even bias theorists understand that's not the way it's supposed to work.
And in the case of the subprime lending industry and its relationship to Wall Street, the public would probably have been better served by a perspective that regarded, say, predatory lending with suspicion instead of one that insisted on putting the phrase in quotation marks.
Which is another way of saying that the problem, in each of these massive failures, wasn't really ideological at all. The people who got it right, in both cases, were the ones willing to hold power accountable, to directly challenge the conventional wisdom.
What the Post seems to be after is the opposite: A form of journalism that offends nobody, that comes crawling to the powerful, that mirrors the partisan breakdown of the population as a whole. If that's the future of journalism, we can be certain that ever more catastrophic failures await.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The WSJ-NYT Smackdown

This morning the New York Times' David Carr accused the Wall Street Journal of moving its news division to the right under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch.
The WSJ's Managing Editor Robert Thomson responded:
From: Thomson, Robert
Sent: Monday, December 14, 2009 11:06 AM
Subject: Statement by Robert Thomson on The New York Times
The news column by a Mr David Carr today is yet more evidence that The New York Times is uncomfortable about the rise of an increasingly successful rival while its own circulation and credibility are in retreat. The usual practice of quoting ex-employees was supplemented by a succession of anonymous quotes and unsubstantiated assertions. The attack follows the extraordinary actions of Mr Bill Keller, the Executive Editor, who, among other things, last year wrote personally and at length to a prize committee casting aspersions on Journal journalists and journalism. Whether it be in the quest for prizes or in the disparagement of competitors, principle is but a bystander at The New York Times.
Robert Thomson, Editor-in-Chief, Dow Jones.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tiger Woods and the Animation of News

Video avatars are like newspaper illustrations of old.

Long after Tiger Woods has been forgiven his transgressions, one lasting legacy of his extramarital activities will be a new journalistic art form: the animated news report. Millions of people have now viewed the online animations produced by Hong Kong-based Next Media depicting the wronged wife coming after Tiger Woods with a golf club and smashing the back window of his vehicle, causing the now-famous accident.
This may or may not be what actually happened, but one lesson of technology applied to information is that every medium finds its ultimate conclusion, from talk radio to reality television. In the case of online video, animated "news" will fill the gap where there is no actual video. (If you've somehow missed this animation, view it at
Journalistic traditionalists tut-tut; animations are not re-enactments so much as a potential version of the news. Even leading new-media journalists are ambivalent. Kara Swisher, who blogs at the Journal's All Things Digital Web site, quipped, "It's not pretty, but it is hard to avert my eyes from the bizarre video report," comparing it to a video game "gone awry." She said she couldn't tell "whether such faux representations of how news might or might not have happened is a good or bad thing."
Associated Press
Tiger Woods

These animations are the latest brainstorm of Jimmy Lai, the founder of Next Media, which launched what are now the most popular Chinese-language newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Reflecting on how newspaper stories have more background about events than television news reports have, as he told me last week, "I thought, hey, why not make those missing images of the background into animated images?" He hired 160 software developers and engineers in Taiwan, who spent more than two years perfecting the technique. Reporters describe their interpretation of what happened to engineers and actors who serve as the models for the animation. Mr. Lai says that his team can create an animated video in 90 minutes, producing about 20 a day.
Mr. Lai says there's no confusing the animation with real video. "The avatars are still quite wooden looking," he said, though he plans to make them more realistic as the technology improves. Still, viewers need to be discriminating, keeping in mind the difference between enactments and real footage.
Which reminds us that quite a few news stories would benefit from animation of reality: How about congressmen pretending to read the entire health-care bill, or Iranian arms-control negotiators secretly sniggering at U.N. diplomats?
Next Media launched its animations last month, and regulators in Taiwan have already fined the company for its sometimes-graphic depictions of murder and other crimes. Mr. Lai is philosophical. It takes time to get used to new forms of media, he says, "especially when you have competitors who fan the public's sentiment out of fear of an innovation's disruptive competition."
Next Media is based in Hong Kong, which has long enjoyed bragging rights for having more news outlets than any other city. Even under Beijing's rule, the former British colony has remained vibrant and transparent due in good part to its colorful spectrum of news media, including Mr. Lai's free-market and democracy-championing Next Magazine and sister paper Apple Daily.
There is a technology precedent for Mr. Lai's news innovation. Before the era of photography in newspapers and magazines, enterprising editors used similar creative license to help readers imagine how news might have happened. The Illustrated London News, founded in 1842, used woodcut-like drawings to depict dramatic scenes, everything from sightings of royals to natural calamities to lynchings of robbers during California's Gold Rush.
The pictorial newspaper sensationalized crime with a purpose. The editors hoped to "infuse a healthier tone of morality into the popular mind upon the subject of such dismal atrocities." When the newspaper printed a drawing of a new archbishop, every clergyman in Britain got a free copy.
As similar newspapers launched in the 19th century, the Illustrated London News hired an army of artists to interpret the news quickly, telling readers, "We shall be able to keep our wood engraving department further in advance by the retention of permanent artists ready at a moment's notice for the contingencies of every public event."
Mr. Lai plans to share his technology with news companies around the world. He reports that "we're in talks with news agencies and some major TV channels" in the U.S. to cooperate in producing animated news.
Another technology genie out of the bottle, destined to change our view of news.


Palin on the Rise; Obama is Old News

By Jack Kelly
I'm sure a 6-year-old with a crayon could do something not unlike that," snarked White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs Tuesday.
The object of Mr. Gibbs' scorn was Gallup's tracking poll for the day before, which showed only 47 percent of respondents approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, with 46 percent disapproving.

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Perhaps Mr. Gibbs' skin was thin because this was the lowest ranking for a president at this point in his presidency since Gallup began conducting presidential approval polls in 1938.
Meanwhile, a CNN/Opinion Research Poll also released Monday indicated 46 percent of respondents have a favorable impression of Sarah Palin, while 46 percent have an unfavorable one.
The polls were not quite the same. Gallup asked people what they thought of the job Mr. Obama was doing, not whether or not they liked him.
Even with that caveat, though, the convergence between Mr. Obama and Ms. Palin is remarkable. There is no statistical difference between the one and the other.
This represents a substantial gain in public esteem for Ms. Palin since she resigned as governor of Alaska in July, and a substantial decline for Mr. Obama over the same period.
Sarah Palin's been on a roll since the publication of her autobiography last month. "Going Rogue" is already the second-biggest seller among nonfiction books in history (only Bill Clinton's 2004 autobiography, "My Life," sold more copies in the first month), and could be No. 1 before the end of her book tour, since her sales seem to be holding up better than his did.
The book tour itself is a cultural phenomenon. At each stop hundreds, often thousands, of people have waited hours, sometimes days, to meet her.
Could Barack Obama -- who now seems so last year -- inspire that kind of devotion today?
The turnabout in fortunes is all the more remarkable because no political figure in recent history has been subject to such vilification from our news media as Sarah Palin. No malicious rumor was too preposterous to report. No accomplishment was important enough to mention.
Meanwhile, no presidential candidate or president has received more favorable press coverage than Barack Obama.
"President Barack Obama has enjoyed substantially more positive media coverage than either Bill Clinton or George W. Bush during their first months in the White House," concluded a Pew Research study last May. Forty-two percent of stories in major newspapers and television news programs about Mr. Obama were favorable, compared to 22 percent for Mr. Bush and 27 percent for Mr. Clinton.
"The press just acted like this guy walked on water," Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz said during the campaign.
That's changing, in both directions.
Sarah Palin interrupted her book tour to speak at the Gridiron Club, the biggest social event of the year for Washington journalists.
"The very fact she was willing to take the chance of appearing in a room full of her most disdainful critics is testimony to her courage," wrote Dan Thomasson of Scripps Howard. "She came away with at least a consensus of grudging admiration."
"Her appearance produced the extraordinary scene of inside-the-Beltway cynics and their significant others asking for autographs," Mr. Thomasson noted.
"Palin won the evening," conceded columnist Clarence Page.
"As much as her politics are not mine, after chatting with her and her husband, good-natured 'First Dude' Todd Palin, I came away with a new fondness and respect for both of them," Mr. Page wrote.
"Going Rogue" received savage reviews from most liberals, like that from Ana Marie Cox in The Washington Post, who acknowledged she hadn't actually read the book.
Those who did have a different opinion. Stanley Fish, writing for The New York Times, described it as "compelling and very well done."
The reaction of liberals to Sarah Palin -- which is like that of vampires to garlic -- indicate she is the Republican they fear most. With good reason, Mr. Fish thinks.
"Perseverance, the ability to absorb defeat without falling into defeatism, is the key to Palin's character," he wrote. "Her political opponents, especially those who dismissed Ronald Reagan before he was elected, should take note."

Friday, December 11, 2009

After walkout, Congressional Black Caucus gets $6 billion in added spending

December 10, 2009 | 12:23 pm
Call it the $6-billion boycott.
By boycotting a key House committee vote last week and threatening to abandon support for banking regulations, members of the Congressional Black Caucus got $4 billion added to a Wall Street regulation bill and $2 billion to a proposed House jobs bill in spending they sought for African American communities.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) this week inserted $3 billion to the legislation to provide low-interest loans to unemployed homeowners in danger of foreclosure. He added $1 billion for neighborhood revitalization programs.
The money would come out of the $700-billion financial bailout fund.
“For those of us who walked out, it was absolutely essential that we have parts of that legislation directed toward helping people who have been left out of all of these bailouts,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), one of 10 black caucus members on the Financial Services Committee.
The proposed jobs bill targets $1 billion from infrastructure spending for public housing repairs. It also provides $1 billion for an affordable housing trust fund.
With 40 members in the House, the Congressional Black Caucus can be a potent force.
“Since last September, we have continuously voted for bailout and reform for the very institutions that created this devastation without properly protecting the African American community or small business,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) said on the day of the boycott. “That stops today.”
Among the caucus’ demands were greater assistance for minority-owned auto dealerships and banks that lend in African American communities and more government advertising in minority-owned media.
-- Associated Press

Thursday, December 10, 2009

UPDATE 1-ABC to tap Stephanopoulos as co-anchor of 'GMA'

NEW YORK, Dec 9 (Reuters) - ABC News plans to announce on Thursday that George Stephanopoulos will become an anchor of "Good Morning America" in a long-expected change that sees Diane Sawyer step up to head the U.S. network's nightly news.
Stephanopoulos, 48, is a former political adviser to the administration of President Bill Clinton. After leaving the White House, he took roles co-hosting ABC News coverage of political events and appeared regularly on ABC News shows.
He is expected to keep "This Week," his Sunday news program, "for the foreseeable future", one source said on Wednesday.
Stephanopoulos will begin his role on "Good Morning America" (GMA) on Dec. 14.
Robin Roberts will remain co-anchor at GMA, mow the second most-watched morning news program in the United States behind NBC's "Today."
Media reports have said Chris Cuomo, GMA's news reader, is leaving and will be replaced by JuJu Chang. The Washington Post reported Cuomo, son of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, will move to co-anchoring the ABC news magazine "20/20."
News programs are among the more lucrative shows put on air by the networks. ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.
Sawyer will begin solo anchor duties at ABC's "World News" on Dec. 21, replacing Charles Gibson, who said he would step down in September.
Sawyer joins Katie Couric of the "CBS Evening News" as a female anchor of a major U.S. broadcaster's nightly news.
Couric, who left NBC's "Today" show to become the first solo female anchor of a U.S. nightly news program, has had a rocky tenure. Initially, her ratings jumped as viewers tuned in to see how she performed but viewership faded and, in recent years, has remained consistently below ABC and NBC.
Because of her viewership numbers, speculation has persisted that Couric plans to leave "CBS Evening News" before her contract expires in 2011.
Sawyer, who leaves GMA on Friday, may face similar scrutiny over "World News" viewership.
"That was a burden that Katie Couric had to bear," said Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center and professor at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communications & Journalism.
"She was measured as a symbol of the new evening news ... someone who would have to make the transition from morning TV." (Reporting by Bernard Orr, Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and John O'Callaghan)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Accepting Peace Prize Will Be a Test for Obama

Published: December 9, 2009
WASHINGTON — He has read the Nobel speeches of Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Elie Wiesel. He has studied the award’s rich history and its extraordinary roster of winners.
Yet when President Obama travels to Norway to accept his prize on Thursday, he faces a far different challenge than those who have gone before him: He is a wartime leader, accepting a medal that is a commendation to peace, which even he insists he does not yet deserve.
There is, of course, no escaping the paradox of this moment for Mr. Obama as he delivers an acceptance speech for his Nobel Peace Prize only nine days after announcing that he would escalate the war in Afghanistan by sending in 30,000 more American troops.
“There is one very pregnant question,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “How do you reconcile your role as a commander in chief with your aspirations to promote a more peaceful world at a time of war? That’s a question that he’s going to explore in some detail.”
If the trajectory of the president’s political career can be measured, at least in part, through his speeches, the remarks he will give on Thursday about the United States’ place in the world provide one of the most pronounced tests of his rhetoric. And surely the most unusual, given that the applause in Norway comes at a particularly trying period of his presidency.
It is, after all, merely a speech. (Actually in the parlance of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, it is called a Nobel Lecture, which is supposed to last 20 to 25 minutes.)
But suddenly, the burden seems even greater than it did two months ago when the Nobel committee startled the world — and Mr. Obama — with its decision to honor the president well before a full picture of his achievements is known.
At the time, the committee made no mention of Afghanistan, but wrote, “Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts.”
So there was little question inside the White House that the central themes of the president’s speech had to include war and peace.
Two days after he delivered his Afghanistan address last week at the United States Military Academy at West Point, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office with two speech writers, Ben Rhodes and Jon Favreau, and began to offer an outline for what he would like to say in Oslo.
Mr. Obama is the third sitting American president to be awarded the peace prize. A student of history, he read the lecture of Theodore Roosevelt, who won the award in 1906 for his role in bringing an end to the war between Russia and Japan. He also studied the words of Woodrow Wilson, who sent a telegram to the committee — he was ill and could not attend a ceremony — for his 1919 award in recognition of his 14-point peace program for ending World War I.
With so few former presidents to seek guidance from, aides said, Mr. Obama also spent time looking back at the speech of George C. Marshall, who was awarded the prize in 1953 for helping to rebuild the post-World War II world through the plan of economic aid that bears his name. Mr. Obama also was intrigued by the lectures of more recent honorees, aides said, including Mr. Mandela in 1993 and Dr. King in 1964.
The lessons of history, though, provided only a limited amount of instruction, considering that Mr. Obama’s circumstances are starkly different than those of previous winners. So in addition to explaining his strategy for Afghanistan — outlining why war is necessary to bring peace — the president’s advisers said they will reprise the words of humility that Mr. Obama delivered on Oct. 9, hours after learning he had won the award.
“It’s not necessarily an award he would have given himself,” Mr. Axelrod said. “In that sense, it poses a challenge, but thinking through these issues is not burdensome. He spends a lot of time thinking about how you promote a more peaceful and secure world, about the appropriate use of power and about the value and importance of diplomacy.”
To minimize his time away from Washington, where a vigorous debate over health care and Afghanistan is under way on Capitol Hill, Mr. Obama is leaving the White House on Wednesday evening and flying overnight to Oslo. He will formally enter the history of the 108-year-old Nobel prize when he delivers his lecture in a ceremonial room of Oslo City Hall, which offers a view of the picturesque bay of Oslofjorden.
It was then, aides said, they realized that they would not be able to tailor the setting of the lecture in the way they usually do to project Mr. Obama exactly how they wish.
When presidents deliver their most important speeches, like Mr. Obama’s April address on nuclear threats from the central square of Prague or his June speech to the Muslim world from Cairo University, the White House choreographs the backgrounds, camera angles and crowds. But in this case the venue, like the award itself, is something that this president cannot control.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Gibbs: Poll like a 6-year-old

Gibbs: Poll like a 6-year-old
Gibbs compared Gallup with an EKG machine in a Tuesday briefing. AP Close
The White House lashed out at the Gallup Poll on Tuesday after the survey's daily tracking numbers showed President Obama's approval rating dropping to a new low of 47 percent.

Asked for a response to Monday's tracking poll, which placed Obama's approval numbers among the lowest of any recent president in December of his first year in office, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs mocked the reliability of the widely respected polling firm.

"I tell you, if I was a heart patient and Gallup was my EKG, I'd visit my doctor," Gibbs said. "If you look back, I think five days ago, there was an 11-point spread, now there's a 1-point spread. I mean, I'm sure a 6-year-old with a crayon could do something not unlike that. I don't put a lot of stake in, never have, in the EKG that is the daily Gallup trend."

He added: "I don't pay a lot of attention to the meaninglessness of it."

Gallup's tracking poll showed an uptick in Obama's numbers last week following his speech outlining a new strategy for the war in Afghanistan. But in Monday's polling release, Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones wrote: "Any slight bump in support Obama received coincident with his new Afghanistan policy proved to be very short-lived, as his approval rating returned to below the majority level by the weekend and slipped further to 47 percent  in Dec. 4-6 polling."

Monday, December 7, 2009

#100: CNN Reaches Historic Low In Prime Time Demo

CNN has reached a historic ratings low during prime time in the A25-54 demographic, finishing as the fourth place cable news network in that category now 100 times during 2009. This means CNN finished behind Fox News, MSNBC and sister network HLN.

While CNN’s daytime line-up has seen far more success – generally finishing in 2nd place behind just FNC – their prime time line-up has not yet turned around.
This is by far the most times this has ever happened for CNN. The network has now finished in 4th place in that category 41% of 2009 weeknights. It’s a dramatic fall from 2008, when Anderson Cooper’s 10pmET hour actually won the prime time demo, even topping his FNC competition. 2008 of course was a very big year for CNN, as the presidential election dominated coverage. But while CNN’s prime time ratings have not dropped off significantly from 2007 and before, the competition is growing enormously, and leaving CNN behind in the category.
The 100th occurrence was Thursday night. As the year ends, CNN is finishing fourth more and more often. The network was 4th in the prime time demo 13 nights during November – more times than any other month.
Prime time demo is just one of the many categories CNN and other networks use to sell against, and CNN continues to push the fact that it is performing strongly during the day. And it should be noted that while CNN drops in prime time, their sister network HLN is doing well – which benefits CNN’s parent company as a whole. Still, as CNN pushes the line, “More people turn to CNN because journalism matters,” (have you seen that anywhere today?) it appears more and more clear that people are turning to opinion during prime time.

The Usual Merger Suspects

The Comcast-NBC deal and familiar cries of doom.

Every media merger seems to generate grand denunciations from liberal watchdogs and pro-regulatory policy makers. And sure enough, last week's long-expected announcement that Comcast is buying NBC Universal from General Electric prompted dire predications from all the usual suspects.
"This kind of massive media consolidation will lead to higher prices and fewer independent sources of information," said the apparently clairvoyant Joel Kelsey of Consumers Union. "This merger's potential to foreclose competition and stifle innovation is significant and real," added Mark Cooper of the Consumer Federation of America.
Under the deal, cable giant Comcast takes control of several cable channels and the Universal film studio, in addition to the NBC broadcast network. GE—whose credit unit has suffered in the financial meltdown—gets to unload an entertainment unit that's been struggling and can focus instead on its core manufacturing business. Whether this is wise for either party beats us. But it's a determination best made by the marketplace, not by anticorporate activists.
As for the media analysts at Consumers Union, the Consumer Federation of America, Free Press and similar outfits, an examination of their track record is instructive. In the past decade, such advocacy groups have warned against deals involving AT&T and SBC, AOL and Time Warner, Verizon and MCI, and Sirius and XM—on the grounds that such mergers would result in higher prices and fewer choices for consumers.
Some of these business combinations have worked out and others haven't. But it's hard to detect any consumer harm. Whether the market is phone service, Internet access or cable programing, competition and innovation abound. In 1990, cable subscribers had some 70 channels to choose from. Today that number is closer to 600, and TV content can be viewed on a laptop, smart phone or iPod, take your pick.
In addition to being the nation's largest cable company, Comcast is also a leading Internet service provider. And some skeptics worry that Comcast could withhold programming from non-Comcast customers or charge rival cable companies more to carry NBC Universal content. But Comcast has little incentive to restrict choice in a media marketplace full of alternatives. Federal regulations already in place require cable operators to offer programming to competitors at reasonable rates. If Comcast breaks these rules, the Justice Department's Antitrust Division can address it on a case-by-case basis.
The Federal Communications Commission and Justice are expected to take a hard look at this deal. Let's hope they tune out the "consumer protection" alarmists who have a perfect record of error.


Friday, December 4, 2009

How Google Can Help Newspapers

Video didn't kill the radio star, and the Internet won't destroy news organizations. It will foster a new, digital business model.

It's the year 2015. The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time. I flip through my favorite papers and magazines, the images as crisp as in print, without a maddening wait for each page to load.
Even better, the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. So while I get all the news and comment, I also see stories tailored for my interests. I zip through a health story in The Wall Street Journal and a piece about Iraq from Egypt's Al Gomhuria, translated automatically from Arabic to English. I tap my finger on the screen, telling the computer brains underneath it got this suggestion right.
Some of these stories are part of a monthly subscription package. Some, where the free preview sucks me in, cost a few pennies billed to my account. Others are available at no charge, paid for by advertising. But these ads are not static pitches for products I'd never use. Like the news I am reading, the ads are tailored just for me. Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting.
This is a long way from where we are today. The current technology—in this case the distinguished newspaper you are now reading—may be relatively old, but it is a model of simplicity and speed compared with the online news experience today. I can flip through pages much faster in the physical edition of the Journal than I can on the Web. And every time I return to a site, I am treated as a stranger.
So when I think about the current crisis in the print industry, this is where I begin—a traditional technology struggling to adapt to a new, disruptive world. It is a familiar story: It was the arrival of radio and television that started the decline of newspaper circulation. Afternoon newspapers were the first casualties. Then the advent of 24-hour news transformed what was in the morning papers literally into old news.
Now the Internet has broken down the entire news package with articles read individually, reached from a blog or search engine, and abandoned if there is no good reason to hang around once the story is finished. It's what we have come to call internally the atomic unit of consumption.
Chad Crowe 
Painful as this is to newspapers and magazines, the pressures on their ad revenue from the Internet is causing even greater damage. The choice facing advertisers targeting consumers in San Francisco was once between an ad in the Chronicle or Examiner. Then came Craigslist, making it possible to get local classifieds for free, followed by Ebay and specialist Web sites. Now search engines like Google connect advertisers directly with consumers looking for what they sell.
With dwindling revenue and diminished resources, frustrated newspaper executives are looking for someone to blame. Much of their anger is currently directed at Google, whom many executives view as getting all the benefit from the business relationship without giving much in return. The facts, I believe, suggest otherwise.
Google is a great source of promotion. We send online news publishers a billion clicks a month from Google News and more than three billion extra visits from our other services, such as Web Search and iGoogle. That is 100,000 opportunities a minute to win loyal readers and generate revenue—for free. In terms of copyright, another bone of contention, we only show a headline and a couple of lines from each story. If readers want to read on they have to click through to the newspaper's Web site. (The exception are stories we host through a licensing agreement with news services.) And if they wish, publishers can remove their content from our search index, or from Google News.
The claim that we're making big profits on the back of newspapers also misrepresents the reality. In search, we make our money primarily from advertisements for products. Someone types in digital camera and gets ads for digital cameras. A typical news search—for Afghanistan, say—may generate few if any ads. The revenue generated from the ads shown alongside news search queries is a tiny fraction of our search revenue.
It's understandable to look to find someone else to blame. But as Rupert Murdoch has said, it is complacency caused by past monopolies, not technology, that has been the real threat to the news industry.
We recognize, however, that a crisis for news-gathering is not just a crisis for the newspaper industry. The flow of accurate information, diverse views and proper analysis is critical for a functioning democracy. We also acknowledge that it has been difficult for newspapers to make money from their online content. But just as there is no single cause of the industry's current problems, there is no single solution. We want to work with publishers to help them build bigger audiences, better engage readers, and make more money.
Meeting that challenge will mean using technology to develop new ways to reach readers and keep them engaged for longer, as well as new ways to raise revenue combining free and paid access. I believe it also requires a change of tone in the debate, a recognition that we all have to work together to fulfill the promise of journalism in the digital age.
Google is serious about playing its part. We are already testing, with more than three dozen major partners from the news industry, a service called Google Fast Flip. The theory—which seems to work in practice—is that if we make it easier to read articles, people will read more of them. Our news partners will receive the majority of the revenue generated by the display ads shown beside stories.
Nor is there a choice, as some newspapers seem to think, between charging for access to their online content or keeping links to their articles in Google News and Google Search. They can do both.
This is a start. But together we can go much further toward that fantasy news gadget I outlined at the start. The acceleration in mobile phone sophistication and ownership offers tremendous potential. As more of these phones become connected to the Internet, they are becoming reading devices, delivering stories, business reviews and ads. These phones know where you are and can provide geographically relevant information. There will be more news, more comment, more opportunities for debate in the future, not less.
The best newspapers have always held up a mirror to their communities. Now they can offer a digital place for their readers to congregate and talk. And just as we have seen different models of payment for TV as choice has increased and new providers have become involved, I believe we will see the same with news. We could easily see free access for mass-market content funded from advertising alongside the equivalent of subscription and pay-for-view for material with a niche readership.
I certainly don't believe that the Internet will mean the death of news. Through innovation and technology, it can endure with newfound profitability and vitality. Video didn't kill the radio star. It created a whole new additional industry.
Mr. Schmidt is chairman and CEO of Google Inc.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Obama: FOX News Channel's friend

Nearly one year in with Obama, FOX is up, CNN and MSNBC are down

Dobbs and O'Reilly.jpg Lou Dobbs, who suddenly resigned at CNN, spoke about his move with FOX News Channel's Bill O'Reilly, on "The O'Reilly Factor," one of the top-rated programs on cable news. (Photo by Kathy Willens / AP)

The Swamp
by Mark Silva
Who says FOX News doesn't like Barack Obama?
The first year of the Democratic president has been good for the nation's leading cable news channel - its viewership up 7 percent in prime-time hours so far in 2009, compared to the same time last year.
Make that 10 percent among the 25-54-year-olds whom advertisers love to court.
As opposed to both rivals CNN, suffering an apparent post-Dobbs slump as well, and MSNBC - down by double-digits from year to year.
So say the Nielsen ratings in this year of living Democratically, when President Barack Obama's White House has taken on FOX for being something other than a traditional news network - "an arm of the Republican Party,'' according to the outgoing White House communications director. It could be, perhaps, that all the vitriol which commentator Glenn Beck and company have stirred up for Obama and crew has been box-office for the network that the press office loves to hate.
Beck's own audience - 2.67 million viewers in November - includes a 101 percent gain among the 25-54 year-olds since last year.
It's both FOX's standard news fare - Brett Baier's report - and its commentary - Beck, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity - that have fared well during the first 10 months of the Obama administration.
FOX News, of course, has been dominant in the cable ratings for some time - No. 1 in total viewers for 95 consecutive months (since January of 2002), by Nielsen Media Research's count.
But Baier's Special Report and The O'Reilly Factor scored their best month of the year in November, both in total viewership and in the 25-54 cohort.
Both CNN and MSMBC were suffering their worst months of the year, by comparison - with CNN's Anderson Cooper down 70 percent from last year among the 25-54s, Wolf Blitzer's Situation Room off 63 percent among the same crowd.
And CNN's viewership was off 25 percent in the weeks following Lou Dobbs' surprise on-air resignation, comparing the pre-Dobbs and post-Dobbs segments of November's ratings.
Bill O'Reilly's audience of 3.669 million in November included a 12 percent gain in the 24-54 audience, compared with November of last year.
CNN's Campbell Brown's audience of 696,000 was down 62 percent in the same cohort. MSNBC's Countdown with Olbermann, with 1 million viewers, also was down 62 percent among the same audience, year to year.
Even Larry King's 853,000 was off 59 percent.
And Chris Matthews, playing Hardball over at MSNBC, pulled 672,000 viewers, including 184,000 in the 25-54 bracket, off 63 percent from the previous November. It could be all that interrupting of guests that the host does.


Anderson Cooper's Ratings Plummet

Anderson Cooper is fading in the ratings.
The respected CNN anchor has seen his numbers slip significantly through the past year. His 10 p.m. show, "Anderson Cooper 360," has declined 62% in total viewers and 70% in adults 25-54 from November 2008, according to Nielsen figures.
Last month, in Cooper's time slot, Fox News' "On the Record" attracted an average viewership of 1.9 million while "360" averaged 672,000; repeats of MSNBC's "Countdown" and HLN's Nancy Grace show averaged 655,000 and 458,000, respectively.
But in the ad-friendly 25-54 demo, those same repeats won out over Cooper with 224,000 (MSNBC) and 214,000 (HLN).
Cooper -- who became an overnight sensation during his Hurricane Katrina coverage -- surely deserves better ratings. From the start of 2009, he began losing a huge chunk of his nightly audience.
So what happened? Let's see: There's no presidential election to ramp up ratings; there's heavy competition from centrist CNN's noisier rivals (see: Fox News, the No. 1 cable news channel); there's people catching up on DVR-ed TV shows in the late evening; then there's the loss of Lou Dobbs in the 7 p.m. anchor chair, among other possible factors.
Work those blue eyes, Coop!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

FTC to Examine Possible Support of News Organizations

WASHINGTON –The head of the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday the agency will study whether government should aid struggling news organizations, which are suffering from a collapse in advertising revenues as the internet upends their centuries-old business model.
FTC Chairman Jon Liebowitz's comments came during day one of a two-day "workshop" sponsored by the agency that became a forum for arguments among the heads of a diverse array of news organizations over the future of journalism.
Mr. Leibowitz said his agency will examine whether government should change the way the industry is regulated, from making news-gathering companies exempt from antitrust laws to granting them special tax treatment to making changes to copyright laws.
The Federal Communications Commission is already reconsidering rules that prevent a company from owning newspapers and TV stations in a single market.
Mr. Leibowitz said other ideas include extending government subsidies to commercial news organizations, granting them special tax treatment or an exemption from antitrust regulations
While cautioning that changes in the news business must be much better understood before any policy changes are made, Mr. Leibowitz said: "We should be able to take action if necessary to preserve the news that is vital to democracy."
Mr. Leibowitz's wife, Ruth Marcus, is a columnist for the Washington Post, a fact he disclosed during the meeting.
Media executives said they might welcome some relaxation of antitrust and tax rules, but they also expressed wariness of government intervention in the news business.
"I think the message from today is be very, very cautious before you do anything," Mr. Leibowitz said in an interview.
News Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Rupert Murdoch said at the FTC workshop that media companies need to do a better job of convincing consumers that high-quality journalism isn't free. "Good journalism is an expensive commodity," he said.
Mr. Murdoch created a buzz last month by saying that News Corp. may block Google Inc. from searching its news sites. He didn't mention the company by name Tuesday, but criticized Internet sites that profit from reusing news articles published by others without bearing the costs.
"To be impolite, it's theft," he said. News Corp. owns the Wall Street Journal.
Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, followed Mr. Murdoch and blasted his criticism of Internet sites like hers that collect and link to news content from other providers. Ms. Huffington said her popular Web site drives a great deal of online traffic to The Wall Street Journal.
"It's time for traditional media companies to stop whining," she said.
Google and other Web companies say they help news organizations by referring Web users to their sites. "The reality is that the vast majority of publishers want to be discovered," Josh Cohen, senior business product manager for Google News, said at the FTC event. Mr. Cohen said it was technologically very simple for a publisher to instruct Google's Web crawler not to index its news site.
Federal and state officials this year have explored how the government might play a role in helping ease the financial travails of news organizations. Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D., Md.) this spring proposed a bill that would allow newspapers to operate as tax-exempt institutions. Congress has held several hearings about the financial challenges facing the industry.
Previous government salves for the news industry have had limited success. The Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 paved the way for ailing newspapers in the same city to share costs. Critics of these "joint operating agreements" say the law helped preserve multiple newspapers in cities that no longer were able to support them, reducing both papers' chances for survival. JOAs in cities such as Denver and Seattle have been among the first casualties in the newspaper industry's recent woes.
—Shira Ovide contributed to this article

'Overexposed' Obama begins to duck the WH press corps

After months of what some critics called overexposure, President Obama has of late avoided questions from the White House press corps at large, closing the Oval Office to traditionally informal question-and-answer sessions with reporters and pulling back from the fast pace of news conferences he established when taking office.
The president, whose job-approval ratings have been on a steady slide, hasn't held a formal news conference in 19 weeks, since July 22. That one ended badly, when Mr. Obama waded into a racial controversy by saying a white police officer "acted stupidly" when he arrested a black Harvard professor.
"It can't be a total coincidence that the last time he faced the press corps, we ended with beers in the Rose Garden with Henry Louis Gates and James Crowley, when the focus was supposed to be health care," said Julie Mason, a White House reporter for the Washington Examiner who also covered the Bush administration for the Houston Chronicle.
"It does seem like they are responding to the overexposure argument and trying to exert more control over his appearances," she said.
Veteran White House reporters have been grumbling about the lack of access to the president, who as a candidate vowed an unprecedented level of transparency.
On his recent trip to Asia, Mr. Obama took few questions - and none during a session with Chinese President Hu Jintao that the White House dubbed "joint press statements."
Mr. Obama has taken to limiting questions during press conferences with foreign leaders to one question each fromU.S. reporters and foreign correspondents, as he did last week when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Washington. He did the same "one-and-one" with the Japanese prime minister and the South Korean president while in Asia.
In a more unusual move, the president has altered the practice of allowing reporters into the Oval Office for what is called a "pool spray" - a few informal questions after a presidential meeting, often with a foreign leader. Mr. Obama's meeting Monday with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was closed to the press, even photographers, the White House said.
"It's surprising and quite unusual that President Obama meets with an allied leader like the prime minister of Australia and there's no photo op at the beginning or end of the session," said Mark Knoller, a longtime White House reporter for CBS Radio.
Mr. Obama on Tuesday will announce his new policy on the war in Afghanistan at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. He won't be taking questions immediately afterward.
A White House spokesman bristled when asked Monday about the situation.
"I think the last time we got a question about the president answering questions, if I'm not mistaken, it was - wasn't it couched in the - in the notion that he was overexposed?" press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
"Hard for me to imagine that the president would submit himself to so many questions that the punditocracy would say he was overexposed, but the new thing happens to be that he's not answering enough questions," he said.
Still, the spokesman added: "The president enjoys taking your questions and questions from reporters throughout this process. And I am - assume he'll continue to do so."
The president did sit down one-on-one with reporters from all TV network and cable news outlets during his recent trip to Asia, including Fox News' Major Garrett, whom he skipped at his last White House news conference. Mr. Obama has conducted at least 139 press interviews with reporters, Mr. Knoller said.
The pace is on par with his predecessor's. By Mr. Knoller's count, Mr. Obama has held five formal news conferences at the White House during his first 10 months in office, not much different from President George W. Bush, who held four over the same period.
Bill Plante, another White House veteran for CBS News, said presidents prefer to duck the press from time to time, at least for a while.
"At the moment, Obama's silence has more to do with the coming Afghanistan announcement," he said in an e-mail. "Bush (both of them), Clinton, Reagan - all had periods where they preferred not to answer questions for reasons ranging from the economy to Iran Contra or Monica Lewinsky."
But the Obama White House is intent on controlling the flow.
"I get the strong impression this president just doesn't relish the spontaneous question," Miss Mason said.