Beau Monde Press

Belliveau Blog


Author Jeannette Belliveau:

Belliveau Blog Presentations Contact
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Her books:

An Amateur's Guide to the Planet

Romance on the Road
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Belliveau's discount travel links
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Now reading:
Ace of Spades Ace of Spades
by David Matthews
Harrowing but compelling look at growing up mixed race in Baltimore.
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Now watching:
The Office: Season 3The Office - Season Three
Subtle brilliance from the leads and the minor characters -- Angela, Phyllis, Kevin, Oscar, Toby and Ryan -- only increase the hilarity exponentially. .........................
Now listening to:
Complete Studio Recordings Complete Studio Recordings
Led Zeppelin
Incredibly, Zep now have an entire station to themselves (Channel 59) at XM Radio.

« Love, Sex, Romance and Travel | Main | Parodies »

November 6, 2010

Amusing looks at the peculiarities of Demand Media Studios

My Summer at the Content Farm looks at editing for DMS, the parent organization of eHow, Livestrong, Garden Guides, Golflink, Tyra and other online content providers, and the Columbia Journalism Review looks at the writing side in In Demand. Writing and editing articles based on real Google searches versus news is quite a head-spinner for all former journalists.

Another look from Adweek: Content Farms: Angels or Devils?




August 2, 2008

LA Times blogger hat tips Romance on the Road

Thanks blogger Tim Cavanaugh for your Opinion L.A. entry, Make some strapping cabana boy happy today!
Can we ever get enough of mature women sex tourists on Viagra? I didn't think so! Commenter Jeannette Belliveau (I just hear that name and I'm already hooked) hipped us yesterday to her book "Romance on the Road," that describes female sex travel "as a qualified victory for feminism." The brief excerpt available on her site is terrific, in particular the "Sexual Geography" world maps, which feature fat and skinny arrows pointing all over the place and look like the rise-and-fall-of-the-Axis endpapers they used to have in histories of World War II.
Cavanaugh adds:
And as demonstrated in this hilarious blog post detailing the nearly total fabrication of an interview with the Daily Mail, she's an effective critic of that weird combination of sweaty-palmed leering and pleasure-hating moralism with which the mainstream media always treat matters of lust.
I have indeed received a lot of response on the Daily Mail fabricated interview, from unlikely sources including the local hardware store owner (who knew she reads this?!).

And Cavanaugh nails the "weird combination of sweaty-palmed leering and pleasure-hating moralism with which the mainstream media always treat matters of lust."

Because of this media schizophrenia, I never know when I'm on the radio or being interviewed by print journalists whether we will have a laugh-a-minute Howard Stern-fest or solemn condemnation of women "exploiting" poor Jamaicans or something right in between.




April 22, 2008

The art of making up quotes

Sunsandsex.jpgThe Daily Mail, above, quotes me in its article today, "Sun, sand, sex and stupidity: Why thousands of middle-aged women are obsessed with holiday gigolos." Or more accurately, my name is used as a prop for the reporter to warn and scold women about chasing younger guys on foreign beaches.

Does anyone remember when journalistic charlatan Jayson Blaire wrote an article about Jessica Lynch, the soldier rescued in Iraq? He pretended to go to her home in West Virginia and described a view of "tobacco fields and cattle pastures" from the family porch.

He'd never been to Lynch's home, and it had no view of any such thing.

The fascinating detail that came to light after his fantasy article was published was this: No one complained to his editors at the New York Times! They just assumed journalists make everything up.

I'm reminded of this as I ponder whether to contact an editor at the Daily Mail regarding an interview their reporter, Diana Appleyard, conducted with me three weeks ago, the results of which appeared today.

Or actually, some parallel interview appeared with another "Jeannette Belliveau" who wrote a book identically titled to my own "Romance on the Road." She doesn't live where I live, she wasn't divorced when I was divorced, she doesn't speak or think like I do, but there she is, right in print!

I'm more bemused than bothered and am just intrigued with this whole notion of making up stuff they have in the U.K. tabloids. Maybe I'm just vain, or as a long-time copy editor, sort of in love with the idea that words have precise meanings that don't survive radical alteration and accuracy is worth pursuing.

My first clue that our interview was published today was when I came down this morning to an e-mail box full of requests for interviews with other members of the UK press.

That is the Faustian pact involved with publicity: As long as they spell your name and book title correctly, there's no such thing as bad publicity, right? Especially as I watch "Romance on the Road" zoom up the sales rankings at Amazon.co.uk, and realize there are two sides to this devil's bargain.

Still, I am still innocent enough to be somewhat amazed by the lip service UK journalists pay to pretending to interview the subject of an article. This is apparently done tactically to avoid having to admit to the world that no, they never even contacted the person quoted. At least when they call, they can pretend their madeup quotes are some sort of misunderstanding.

Anyway, here's a blow-by-blow of what I told Diana in our interview, and how it came out in the article.

It was fun to hear from Diana. I mentioned at the start of our interview, fittingly conducted on April Fool's Day, how pivotal Daily Mail articles on female sex travelers were to compiling Romance on the RoadRomance on the Road.

By way of intro, I told Diana, "I'm not really a sex tourist at all. I think of myself more as a world traveler who was open to intimate encounters during my travels. Because few women are willing to publicly disclose such affairs, I tend to serve as a proxy for actual sex tourists in interviews with the BBC and other media."

This came out as:

"Writer Jeannette Belliveau, a self-confessed former 'sex tourist' " ...

OK, let's start maybe color coding the errors. I will put errors in red, and accurate material in blue, and we will see how this sorts out. One more time:

Writer Jeannette Belliveau, a self-confessed former 'sex tourist' " ...

After my name, things fall apart a little bit, with two major errors in five words: I'm not really a sex tourist, now or formerly, and the opposite of a self-confessed one.

Next I am quoted as saying "the problem is becoming endemic and that these women are deluding themselves about the dangers such flings present."

I never simply describe sex tourism, either in this interview or others or my writing, as a "problem," it is more of a natural human response to loneliness and the ability of travel to bring farflung men and women together.

Nor do I call it "endemic." It is worldwide and ubiquitous, found in all the world's resorts and even non-resorts, such as the Nepalese Himalayas. "Endemic" is a loaded word that suggests a disease, one I would not use for sex travel by women.

Nor did I say women are deluding themselves about the dangers of such flings. I said the media focused on supposed exploitation of poor men, rather than genuine risks to health and safety.

What I really told Diana: "Critics tend to focus obsessively on fears of exploitation of the men of the Caribbean by wealthier tourists, and they ignore the real potential risks, which are rape, murder and HIV or AIDS."

This came out as:

"The ultimate risk is death," she says, bluntly. "In the past two years three Western women have been killed for their money by their foreign 'toy boys'."

The first phrase, "the ultimate risk is death," is accurate. The sentence that follows, "In the past two years, three Western women have been killed for their money by their foreign 'toy boys'," is pure fantasy. What I told her was the Experiences chapter of "Romance on the Road" describes four apparent murders, and these occurred from 1975 through 2000, and NONE involved MONEY!

Further, the expression "foreign toy boys" has never once crossed my lips. Nor has the more semantically accurate "boy toys."

At this point, this article is really losing me with its ratio of fiction to fact.

Next we have these passages:

Statistically, a third of all cross-cultural "marriages" end in divorce, and Jeannette says the naivety of the women involved is unbelievable. "Most of them are middle class and intelligent, which makes their behaviour even more baffling," she says. "These guys are after their money, pure and simple, and the ultimate goal is marriage so they can get a visa and move to the UK. The fact that they can fall for lines such as 'You are so gorgeous' is ridiculous."

I cannot even speculate how Diana came to put those words in my mouth. Here I am fairly convinced that she may have misattributed a chunk of text where perhaps she meant to quote Jacqueline Sanchez-Taylor, or someone else she interviewed?

We discussed the fact that she planned to interview Sanchez-Taylor, who has been very helpful to me in my research, but who tends to look at the phenomenon of women's sex travel in a far more negative light than I do.

The entire point of my book, "Romance on the Road," is to look at the entire spectrum of Western women who travel to meet foreign men, and a major premise is that sincere love comes out of some proportion of these seemingly random holiday encounters.

Next we have:

Fifty-three-year-old Jeannette, from Surrey, divorced in her early 30s.

I am not from Surrey. I am from Maryland in the United States. I lived in Surrey from 1981-85. I've been back in my home state, and nowhere near Surrey, for 22 years, since 1985.

I divorced when I was 27 years old, not my early 30s. How did the authoress pick "early 30s," I wonder?

Why not just write, "She was abducted by an alien spaceship when she was 47 and had sex with younger, repeat younger, darkskinned, repeat darkskinned, Romulans under the triple moons of Alpha Centauri, prior to joining the middle class and renouncing such plebian activities with a brisk, 'Wise up!'"

It's interesting, it's random, why not?

Next sentence:

A few years later, despairing of the lack of dates in the UK, she began to travel the world and had numerous sexual encounters with young, foreign men.

A few years later? No. My first encounter with foreign men was when I was 27, and I was separated at the time. Here are the opening words of my chapter on my experiences in Greece:

"At the age of 27, I made the first of three visits to Greece."

I guess Diana did not quite make it to page 16 of the pdf I e-mailed her of "Romance on the Road!"

"A lack of dates in the UK." No. I also make it clear in that chapter that I had a boyfriend in England at the time of my Greece trip. My estranged husband made some attempts to reconcile, and in addition to the boyfriend, other men made clear their interest in little flirtatious visits to my office and my home.

"Numerous" sexual encounters. More like "some" or "a few."

"Young" foreign men. I think a fair number of them were my age or older.

Next, note a completely accurate paragraph (pops open champagne!) followed by a more shaky one:

"In countries such as the Gambia and Kenya, there is both a surplus of men and the fact that women there tend to marry men at least ten years older than themselves, which is the culture. So for 18-year-old and 20-plus men, there is no one to date.

"Poverty is rife. Then, over the past ten years, planeloads of mature single British women have started arriving, their handbags full of cash. They're fit, good-looking men and it didn't take them long to realise that there are rich pickings here."

I would not describe poverty in the Gambia as "rife," I tend to speak very precisely on poverty, which I devoted a chapter to in my first book, "An Amateur's Guide to the Planet," and note in "Romance on the Road" that the Gambia is wealthier than nearby countries, quite possibly due to female tourists providing capital to start local businesses.

The "10 years of mature British women" reference is made up ... I note in "Romance on the Road" that Scandinavian women began arriving in the Gambia in the late 1960s, and that is not British women, and more like 40 years ago.

"Handbags full of cash" is an utter fabrication out of Diana's imagination.

I would be highly unlikely to describe Gambian men as "fit," they are strong and buff, not "fit" as in yuppies who go to a gym.

"Rich pickings" is a phrase that has never passed my lips. I might well say that a woman can take her pick on the beach, that is certainly a fact.

Reading on:

Sex tourism by British women is not a new phenomenon. As far back as the 1890s, [As Romance on the Road notes, more like the 1840s,] there are recorded incidents of single British women becoming involved with dark-skinned Italian and French men ["dark-skinned" Italian and French men? BWA HA HA HA!] on their cultural 'tours' of Europe. [I write much more of the early travelers to Syria and Tunisia and Egypt, not France!]

During the British Raj, it was not unknown for English matrons to fall prey to the darkeyed charms of young Indian men.

This is a mangling of the research in "Romance on the Road," which describes numerous instances of India's rajas and nawabs becoming smitten with Englishwomen, often maids. Diana has some sort of obsession with older women with younger men, that she overlays onto the dynamic of India, where age differences had zilch to do with intercultural romances.

But in the past two decades, the phenomenon has escalated. Author Jeannette says that since the 1990s, hundreds of thousands of western women have had affairs with much younger foreign men.

See earlier point about Diana's obsession with age differences. My estimates are that 600,000 Western women have engaged in travel sex (not just with younger men) from 1980 (not "since the 1990s) to 2005.

"These are respectable middleclass women ...
The phrase "respectable middleclass women" has never passed my lips. Good lord, have I morphed into Miss Jean Brodie? The hectoring Scottish schoolmarm played by Maggie Smith?
"Not all of them are unwitting victims to these sexual conmen," she says. "
On top of the fact this quote is made up, I have no idea what point is being made here.
"I have spoken to many women who fly to the Gambia or Jamaica specifically for the purpose of recreational sex."
Never said this, I haven't spoken to more than a few women who happened to have sexual experiences in the Gambia and the French Caribbean, and in these cases, romance and tenderness and even marriage were part of these women's stories. Here's a giant chunk of made-up quotes:
Jeannette agrees. "Wise up," she says.
The phrase "wise up" has never passed my lips.
"At the very least you will be fleeced out of hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds.
Not only did I never say this, who in their right mind would claim traveling women automatically lose thousands of pounds to conmen every time they have a casual shag? The reference to "pounds" rather than "money" is another giveaway that this is a madeup quote attributed to an American who doesn't automatically talk about pounds sterling.
"Kenya and Africa generally, Aids is endemic and you are putting yourself at serious risk."
This sentence is remotely similar to what i actually said, which is that Kenya has the highest HIV rate of any country known for visits by women seeking sex tourism.
"Some of these guys are so poor they have nothing to lose, and they may turn violent. if you go off alone with them and change your mind, they may well rape you anyway."
Oh Lord up in Heaven!! This sentence is complete fantasy or perhaps delusion. This is what I actually told Diana:

"I note in my Ethics and Etiquette chapter that it's important to be careful in going off alone with your guide, which is close to an automatic presumption that sex is likely to occur. So you either should not go off alone together or be prepared to fight him off if you don't want an advance."

"I know i have been guilty of sex tourism in the past, but there is no way i would take those risks now, knowing what i know."
The sentence above is just insane. "Guilty of sex tourism"? Those words have never crossed my lips.

This is a colossal mangling of what I told Diana, where she takes remarks not by me, but from A WOMAN I INTERVIEWED, mangles them, and attributes them to me directly. What I said:

"I interviewed a woman for my Africa chapter who had traveled in Africa in the 1960s and 1970s and enjoyed sexual encounters with men there, who said she would not recommend anyone engage in this behavior today, it's just too risky."

Well, finally, many minutes later, I am at the end of this article ... no more misquotes.

I'll polish this up and send a link to a Daily Mail editor and see what happens, as sort of a lab experiment to see if the folks in West Virginia were correct to not waste their time with contacting editors about fabrications.

Here's the oddest oddity: Yesterday Diana asked me for some women to talk to about their experiences.

I replied:

Hi Diana, Possibly Fiona Pitt-Kethley, the poet who now lives in Spain ... google her you might find her details for contact, or the Guardian might have them, I believe she writes for them intermittently.

I have a contact in Germany who is willing to discuss these things with the media.  (You'll find that usually media have to find women not in their home country to interview ... due to the delicate nature of the story ...)

There are some women quoted in an article in Woman magazine, see link here:

http://www.beaumonde.net/pdfs/womanmag.pdf

Assuming they aren't made up, the author might share the names with you! she was I believe Anna Kingsley: annakingsley@hotmail.com

Juliane Stokes in Nottingham is writing a dissertation on female sex tourism, you could see if she ever found anyone, I know she found it an uphill battle:

jstokes085@aol.com

Yvonne wrote an article in Eve magazine, you can try her too:

yvonne.illsley@btconnect.com

good luck -- Jeannette

Someone in the wee few hours between midday Monday U.K. time, when I was contacted, and Diana's Monday night deadline, we have full-blown profiles of two women, "Sarah Jarvis" and "Nicky Jardine," who ostensibly had affairs in Turkey and Egypt respectively.

And both read straight out of a romance novel.

So far, a good number of Diana's UK colleagues are hot on the heels of "Sarah Jarvis" and "Nicky Jardin" and asking me (not sure why) how to get in touch with them. Since their names have been changed, this will not be easy!

I have a feeling the closest they will get is in the pages of Diana Appleyard's romance novels, "Too Beautiful to Dance," "Playing with Fire," "Out of Love" and "Every Good Woman Deserves a Lover."

They act fictionally and implausibly.

This would just be more humorous examples of Tom Stoppard's adage that there should be a journalist doll -- "Wind it up and it gets it wrong" -- except that I try to operate in the world of responsible, factual journalism.

And I relied on the Daily Mail for some of my anecdotes in "Romance on the Road." And now, frankly, they are suspect, and I may have to drum my fingers and think about revising them out of the picture.

P.S. -- Want to read a 100 percent accurate interview with me on female sex tourism? Try Emily McCoombs "Ticket to Ride" that appeared in Bust magazine, link here.




March 21, 2008

Stuff White People Like: The Wire

DavidBubbles.jpg
"The Wire" creator and executive producer David Simon with Andre Royo, who plays the character Bubbles.

This is just too classic, from the blog Stuff White People Like: Entry No. 85 is "The Wire," our homegrown, just-completed crime drama produced by former Sun colleague David Simon:

Though white people have a natural aversion to television, there are some exceptions. For white people to like a TV show it helps if it is: critically acclaimed, low-rated, shown on premium cable, and available as a DVD box set.

The latter is important so that white people can order it from Netflix and tell their friends “they are really into and I watched ten episodes in a row in the weekend. I’m almost caught up.”

If you attempt to talk about an episode they have not seen yet, they will scream and cover their ears. In white culture, giving away information about a film or TV series is considered as rude as spitting on your mothers grave. It is an unforgivable offense.

Recent series that have fallen into this category include The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, and most recently The Wire.

For the past three years, whenever you say “The Wire” white people are required to respond by saying “it’s the best show on television.” Try it the next time you see a white person! Though now they might say “it WAS the best show on television.”

For more hilarity, visit the entire site, Stuff White People Like.

Here's another great line, true in my experience discussing "The WIre" with people from anywhere from D.C. to Alaska:

If you need to impress a white person, tell them you are from Baltimore. They will immediately ask you about The Wire and how accurate it is. You should confirm that it is “like a documentary of the streets,” the white person will then slowly shake their head and say “man” or “wow.” You will be seen in an entirely new light.
I've been meaning to round up some of the kazillions of links looking at "The Wire" and David Simon, focusing mainly on how he trashes the Sun in the final season, the fifth, just concluded.

I was surprised at how harsh Simon was toward his previous employer. Without the Sun, Simon doesn't become a Baltimore cops reporter and meet the homicide detectives that led to his first book, his first network series, and ultimately to his second series with HBO.

Also, I think all workplaces are a Faustian pact for a writer (or artist), caught by definition between wanting to write or create what you want and having to deal with inpenetrable bosses in exchange for this little thing called money.

At lunch with another former Sun colleague, we laughed away at the spectacle of seeing people we worked with -- Bill Zorzi, Laura Lippman, Jeff Price, David Ettlin, Steve Luxenberg and many other real former staffers -- on screen. My lunch buddy made a great point asking why Simon attacks former Sun editors John Carroll and Bill Marimow by proxy, when their predecessor, editor Jim Houck, was truly clueless in our eyes, as seen by a post-Sun career that sent him into invisibility, as Carroll and Marimow continued to do high-level news editing post-Sun.

Here's a second friend from the Sun making a similar point:

I didn't know Simon but remember him storming around the newsroom like a panther. He was an early believer in his own legend. Of course James Houck was the managing editor then. What an empty suit. Why isn't he one of the named evils in the series?

At least Carroll and Marimow had significant careers before and after. What ever became of Houck? He vanished. ...

Everybody was unhappy in those days -- 1986 and 87 -- and I gather nothing ever really changed. It was rather depressing, now that I remember those times. In retrospect I entered the newspaper industry at arguably its high-water mark, when financially, editorially, and institutionally, it was the best it ever was going to be. From then on things ran downhill, not just at the Sun, but everywhere.

In fairness to David, Carroll apparently (after I left to go to the Washington Post) coddled a reporter named Jim Haner, who may have made up stuff for his stories, but not to the extent "The Wire" character Scott Templeton did.

My friend quoted above may think that '86 and '87 just before things ran downhill. Maybe ... the timing point is interesting, and it seems also though that a whole lot of talent -- including gifted editor Steve Luxenberg, who decamped reluctantly to the Washington Post to make his mark there -- was still going strong at the Sun.

My memories of David Simon at the Baltimore Sun:

My first week at the Sun was in January 1987. David wrote a series on Little Melvin, the Baltimore drug kingpin. As I recall, it ran for five days including over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and Baltimore's black community was riled over feeling slighted by the series' timing. I heard some very quiet grumbling on the copy desk that someone on Metro should have been aware of this clash and worked around it. I think the copy editors were embarrassed too at their more minor role in the oversight.

Later, I had to copy edit a story by David glorifying some criminal or other, that was supposed to run on a Monday. I think everyone else on the copy desk had steered around the story because they didn't want to deal with it.

I spent Sunday unable to get in touch with him or his editor on the fact that the wording in the intro was attempting, I thought unsuccessfully, to give the criminal's stream of consciousness on how he justified his outlaw behavior, but it made it seem as if the reporter's own voice was endorsing the behavior. I added with my boss's permission and as artfully as possible, a brief qualifier that the thought process belonged to subject of the portrait. David showed up Monday to ream me out, standing over me as I sat at my desk. It was an unnerving experience. I explained the point of view had a problem and we couldn't reach him or his editor and that was pretty much that. He seemed fascinated with the underworld and seemed quite determined not to be bourgeois in judging it.

Years later, David's first book, "Homicide," was accepted for publication. I wanted to write and have publish a book idea on my travels, which later became An Amateur's Guide to the PlanetAn Amateur's Guide to the Planet. I asked David if I could treat him to lunch and pick his brains on the process of getting an agent. He agreed to go to lunch with me at the nearby Bridge restaurant and told me how he got his agent (he walked into a D.C. agent's office and presented the idea, rather confidently, I gathered) and a lot about the book publishing process. I remain grateful for his guidance and gave him an acknowledgement in Amateur.

When we run into each other, at funerals for example, I am always glad to see David.

Oh I remember one other encounter ... right after I arrived at the Sun, he came up and said, "You used to be a reporter at the Montgomery Journal, and you interviewed me when I was in high school," at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High. I thought didn't recall the meeting but thought that was sweet, and you will see in the Mark Bowden profile below the extent to which David really, really knew and wanted to be a journalist, and found meeting me -- the schools reporter at the local county paper -- something to file away in the memory banks.

He's one of the Sun's noted alumni from a time of great talent at the paper, which also included Lippman and Stephen Hunter, whom I blogged about here.

DavidSimonOmar2.jpg
David Simon with Michael K. Williams, who plays Omar, "The Wire's" most compelling character. Here Williams' discusses his shock at what happened to him on the show.

Anyway, here are links galore for anyone wanting to follow the debate that exploded in the East Coast media.

'The Wire' loses spark in newsroom storyline. From Sun TV critic David Zurawik:

... the newsroom scenes are the Achilles' heel of Season 5 - with mainstream entertainment sacrificed to journalistic shop talk, while fact and fiction are mashed up in the confusing manner of docudrama.
Simon's own response to Zurawik's article:

The story is fictional, but it is rooted in concerns about out-of-town chain ownership, wholesale cutbacks in the newsroom, the declining scope of coverage and the continued influence of the prize culture in newspapering, up to and including the temptation among less ethical practitioners to hype or manufacture the news.

That's a lot for any newspaper to endure and The Sun has been very tolerant. And while the Chicago folks ordering up buyout after buyout might want to pause for reflection, Editor In Chief Tim Franklin is right: The people on the ground in Baltimore, though there are less of them, are doing the most to produce the best newspaper they can. He and his staff have nothing of which to be ashamed in that regard, nor was it our intent to in any way shame them. We believe in the themes we have pursued and we believe these problems plague The Sun as all other major papers, some currently, and some under previous regimes. But none of that takes away from the work still being done in Baltimore.

Here's The Angriest Man in Television by Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, in The Atlantic:
For all his success and accomplishment, he’s an angry man, driven in part by lovingly nurtured grudges against those he feels have slighted him, underestimated him, or betrayed some public trust. High on this list is his old employer The Baltimore Sun—or more precisely, the editors and corporate owners who have (in his view) spent the past two decades eviscerating a great American newspaper. In a better world—one where papers still had owners and editors who were smart, socially committed, honest, and brave—Simon probably would never have left The Sun to pursue a Hollywood career. His father, a frustrated newsman, took him to see Ben Hecht’s and Charles MacArthur’s classic newspaper farce, The Front Page, when he was a boy in Washington, D.C., and Simon was smitten. He landed a job as a Sun reporter just out of the University of Maryland in the early 1980s, and as he tells it, if the newspaper, the industry, and America had lived up to his expectations, he would probably still be documenting the underside of his adopted city one byline at a time. But The Sun let David Simon down. So he has done something that many reporters only dream about. He has created his own Baltimore.
From The New York Observer: Whose Bastard Sun: If The Wire Is Wrong, Why Is Baltimore's Paper So Bad?
The Sun that I covered for Baltimore's City Paper in the '90s was the Sun of Mr. Carroll and Mr. Marimow. It was redesigned and ambitious and on its way to Pulitzer glory. It was also a damaged and declining newspaper.

How can both those things be true? It comes down to a disagreement about the purpose of a newspaper. Mr. Carroll and Mr. Marimow's Sun was a place for young, talented reporters to do ambitious stories. It was not particularly dedicated to covering the news in the city of Baltimore.

That's because the Sun of the '90s was not a Baltimore newspaper. It was a colonial holding of The Los Angeles Times, which had bought it in 1986. Actually, The Times had bought two papers, The Sun and The Evening Sun—in a sense, it had even acquired a share of a third, as the Sunpapers absorbed staff and features from the collapse of the Baltimore News American. But by 1995, The Evening Sun had been folded into The Sun, and Baltimore was down to one daily-paper newsroom. Buyouts, ordered from the other side of the country, were clearing out the veteran employees.

'The Wire' finale is a cop-out for a once-great show: More from Zurawik:
In my preview of the season, I termed the newsroom scenes the "Achilles heel" of the series. Worse, they became a cancer that grew deeper and deeper into other parts of the drama as the season wore on.

The problems began with the depiction of a newsroom that lacked any sense of the urgent new-media priorities in the real ones today. Worse, from an entertainment standpoint, it was filled with stick figures and former journalists who couldn't act a lick.

And this is in such stark contrast to the series' richly nuanced treatment of larger-than-life gangsters, played by superb actors. Watching the gears turn inside the mind of Jamie Hector's Marlo Stanfield was one of the great pleasures of the series.

The arch-villains - editor James C. Whiting III (Sam Freed), managing editor Thomas Klebanow (David Costabile) and reporter Scott Templeton (Tom McCarthy) - behave more and more reprehensibly in the finale without viewers getting any sense of their moral reasoning. Whiting and Klebanow go on to commit unpardonable journalistic crimes.

Given the way Simon has identified them in interviews as having been inspired by two real-life newsroom executives who once worked at The Sun, former editor John Carroll and former managing editor Bill Marimow, the term character assassination does not seem too harsh for what he has attempted to do in Season 5 of The Wire. Embracing the controversial genre of docudrama like never before, Simon has repeatedly blurred fact and fiction this year. Take just the matter of chronology. Simon left the Sun in 1995, and the people on whom he bases his villains are long gone, yet he presents events set in the newsroom as if they are taking place at The Sun today.

Is it any wonder that so little truth has emerged from such a stew?





March 1, 2008

Bloggers tackle the Supreme Court and the Exxon oil spill

Three quick updates as bloggers attempt to wrestle with Wednesday's Supreme Court gathering to hear oral arguments in the punitive damages phase of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Long and fascinating, here is Jan Crawford Greenburg of ABC News in Washington, D.C., Oil and Water:

The most fascinating thing about the argument—and it really was one of the most fascinating arguments of the term--was watching the justices explore different proposals and options to put some limits on punitive damages.

You saw Justice Scalia—who has long refused to put constitutional limits on punitive damages (he doesn't see it in the Constitution any more than he sees a right to abortion in the Constitution)—free to weigh in and discuss a framework.
You saw Chief Justice Roberts, who has not ruled squarely on that broader constitutional issue, expressing skepticism about punitive damages and exploring the differences in maritime law—an area he knows well, having argued (and won) the important maritime case, Grubart v Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, which came about after the great Chicago flood. That case, written by Justice Souter, is one of his favorites—as a lawyer he quoted it frequently as an advocate, because it squarely rejected confusing multi-factor tests for admiralty jurisdiction.

You saw Ginsburg—who always is prepared at argument, but yesterday exhibited an almost astoundingly expert level of knowledge about this tortured and complex case—pressing Dellinger on the record, on precedent and on federal procedural rules. It was an extraordinarily impressive display, and to many observers she clearly got the best of the argument.

I tried to capture a bit of this in my own story for the Cordova Times, here -- how it did seem even to my uninformed eyes that this was a rockin' day at the court, and that Ginsburg ruled the day.

At Scotusblog, former Baltimore Sun courts reporter Lyle Denniston weighs in with Commentary: Exxon may both lose and win.

First impressions, based on what was said or intimated at a fast-paced oral argument, can be quite misleading. This Court usually divides quite deeply in considering punitive damages claims — a factor that is even more complex in this case, because one Justice (Samuel A. Alito, Jr.) is not taking part, leaving at least a chance of a 4-4 split, perhaps on some but not all issues. But first impressions also might qualify as reasonable reactions, when what was asked and answered is parsed closely, and when atmospherics are taken into account. It was apparent that Exxon’s lawyer, Washington attorney Walter Dellinger, was under serious challenge throughout his argument, and critically so on his efforts to get the Court to forbid any punitive damages award for this kind of maritime accident. But it was equally apparent that the lawyer for the individuals and businesses who were awarded punitive damages, Stanford professor and lawyer Jeffrey L. Fisher, had to deal with a spreading view on the bench that there had to be some curbs on punitive damages in the maritime context — especially when the punitive verdict runs into the billions.
And finally, here's a podcast from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Studies, direct link here. This gives a more skeptical view of the plaintiffs' arguments for those seeking a balance of information.



February 29, 2008

My rookie try at covering the Supreme Court

jbdillon3.jpgI run into Robert Dillon, with whom I worked briefly in Anchorage in 2004, on the Mall in Washington. Dillon was covering the Supreme Court for the Fairbanks News-Miner, me for the Cordova Times. We both worked earlier for Alaska Newspapers, me as a designer, he as the editor of the Tundra Drums.

It's certainly a jolt to go from being in a home office in Baltimore to joining the press corps at the Supreme Court.

I usually spend my weekends copyediting six rural newspapers in Alaska. The dress code for this job is relaxed, at best. I interpret it to allow me to wear, as a sampling at the low end, a paint-splattered University of Maryland sweatshirt, grey Lee jeans and Timberlands with caulk on them.

With any luck, I remember to wear a bandana while doing home improvement projects sandwiched around the editing, so maybe my hair isn't paint splattered as well ... maybe not.

I fit in fairly well with our idiosyncratic Upper Fells Point neighborhood with its mix of arty types, immigrants, blue-collar workers and casually dressed professionals.

Not so well in go-go, busy, hyperaffluent Washington, D.C., the 21st century's answer to the glory of Rome at its height.

So when the Cordova, Alaska, editor of the Cordova Times, Joy Landaluce, suggested I cover the Supreme Court hearing on the Exxon Valdez oil spill on Wednesday and file a story, a major cleanup was in order before I could be presented to the public.

Help came from many quarters. My neighbor Blaire cleaned her Wal-Mart briefcase of cat hair and lent it to me for my notebook, wallet, pens and camera.

She suggested buying black tights at Walgreens -- warmer than stockings, she said -- and wearing some light makeup. While at Walgreens, I also grabbed a box of L'Oreal hair color to address my roots.

My sister Maureen sold me and shipped to Baltimore her wonderful Canon G2 Powershot to take pictures of many Alaska events surrounding the Supreme Court hearing.

My boss in Alaska, editor Randall Howell, and administrative editor Tammy Judd sent a request for press credentials to the nice staff at the Supreme Court information office.

The Supreme Court deputy information officer approved my request and noted a dress code: business jacket mandatory even for female Scotus reporters. And nothing but pens and a notebook would be allowed into the actual courtroom.

I had never owned a business suit in my life. Mindful of my laughable hourly rate working for Alaska Newspapers, I drove to Value Village in Highlandtown and perused the racks of various blue pinstripe numbers. I found a lovely brown suit for $9.98, a new belt for 99 cents and a Liz Claiborne black blouse for $2.98.

To quote the president, mission accomplished.

My sister Sharon and her husband Rob offered lodging a few Metro stops from the court. Rob lent me his aging but servicable Toshiba laptop and Sharon lent her cell phone.

It become obvious that not only did I need a wardrobe for this event, but that I lagged technology by not even having a cell phone, laptop or a professional-grade digital camera. My home office is fairly up to date but I didn't have what I needed to cover a major story without family support, for which I am eternally grateful.

Lamont watched the pets and bought the car down for my use after the court hearing.

And, a family friend, Lee Arnold, counsel to a Republican member of the House of Representatives, who is a fine legal mind, checked my stories for errors, and Eric Caplan of Caplan Communications, publicist for the Cordova-based activists, snared me a career-saving cubicle at the National Press Club to work at on deadline for my preview story the night before the court arguments.

So, all spiffed up, I got the court Wednesday morning about 90 minutes early, and met the Alaskans who were thawing out in the hallway after spending a frigid night outdoors in sleeping bags.

In the press room, in strode Pete Williams, the court reporter for NBC News, Joan Biskupic of USA Today, Bob Barnes of the Washington Post, and all the "bigs" of the Supremes' court media.

Then an elderly gentleman with a cane came in, smiled, and introduced himself. "Hello," he said. "I'm covering this for the Cordova Times." (!)

I was more than a little territorial, proud to be representing the tiny ground-central town most affected by the oil spill.

"I'm covering the case for the Cordova Times," I said. "Who are you?"

He was the husband of a former Times editor, it turned out. The court staff was kind to let him in, as he ostentiously lacked pen, notebook or other accoutrements of a working reporter. He ended up essentially in a hallway behind the working press.

Around 9:20 a.m., 40 minutes before the court would convene, the "bigs" were escorted out first to sit in the permanent press corps section to the right of the justices' bench.

Next came the rest of us to be portioned out in alcoves crammed with chairs, behind the "bigs." The chairs were packed like in a really popular comedy club, reminding me of D.C.'s old Cellar Door.

Robert Dillon, a former colleague at Alaska Newspapers stringing for the Fairbanks News-Miner, knew what to expect.

Those of us brand new to this experience -- namely most of the Alaska fishing town journalists, from Kodiak mainly -- quizzed folks from USA Today and the National Law Journal on how to interpret what we saw.

"Can we interpret what the judges think by their questions, or is that a mistake?" I asked two reporters from the National Law Journal.

"Yes, you can interpret," they told me, unless the justices were obviously playing devil's advocate. They said one could start by understanding that justices Scalia and Thomas were resolutely pro-business, and thus likely votes for Exxon, and then study the others' remarks for clues to their leanings.

We less-celestial journalists were rounded into our alcove seats, and our alcove had three Kodiakers, myself, and the suffering-from-a-bad-cold Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com.

Just before 10 a.m., Toby Sullivan of the Anchorage Press, a former commercial fisherman and plaintiff from Kodiak, and I were inexplicably singled out from everyone else and summoned to rise and follow a brusque female officer of the court.

I worried that we were getting moved from decent seats in front of our alcove to Siberia, farther back near the hallway, alongside my fake Cordova Times counterpart. If I was demoted down to the hallway, where officers signaled which justice was speaking using a number of fingers and a code for each justice, because you couldn't see anything, my reporting was going to suffer even more than it did already from not knowing the court in any great detail.

I was about to protest when we were actually led, not into Siberia, but forward into the chamber proper and shown seats in with the "bigs." The little Cordova Times was about to be seated beside the Washington Post. Though honored that Toby and I were recognized as legit, and that the court officers were kind enough to show courtesy to journalists covering the oral arguments for residents of small-town Alaska, my seat at the end of the row seemed even more claustrophobic than the seat in the alcove.

"Dana, do you want my seat?" I called to Dana Milbank, the Washington Post political reporter superstar, who had arrived late and been shoved into our alcove.

Milbank had no idea who I was yet didn't question why I would know who he was. If you know you are a "big" you are not surprised at being known to strangers. Dana said sure if I was sure.

I was sure I didn't want to be packed in with the bigs. I wanted back with the "smalls." This was a David vs. Goliath case, and I was happier with the Alaskans.

Dana sat down a seat or two away from his Post colleague Bob Barnes, who mockingly asked if he'd bought anything to write with -- color columnists can just sit and listen, he implied -- and I returned to the Official Alaska Alcove to sit by Dahlia Lithwick.

Dahlia actually mentioned the invitation to Toby and me to move at the start of her fabulous column -- fabulous in its writing style, its sympathy to Alaskans and the fact she wrote while fighting a wicked respiratory disorder. Her column is headlined, Oil and Water: The Exxon Valdez case runs aground at the Supreme Court:

The high court is teeming with Alaskans this morning, and the press office has made a superhuman effort to accommodate them all. ... Outside the court, Alaskans hold banners demanding justice. And flanking me in the press section today are reporters from at least four different Alaskan newspapers. One is himself a plaintiff in the Exxon suit. A few moments before argument begins, a passel of them are even moved up to the two front rows reserved for the permanent press corps—sacred ground to which your ordinary beat reporter dare not aspire.
Milbank made good use of the seat I had been offered to crane his neck and listen, rarely taking notes but soaking it all in. His column is entitled, At the High Court, Damage Control:
Exxon Mobil, the giant oil corporation appearing before the Supreme Court yesterday, had earned a profit of nearly $40 billion in 2006, the largest ever reported by a U.S. company -- but that's not what bothered Roberts. What bothered the chief justice was that Exxon was being ordered to pay $2.5 billion -- roughly three weeks' worth of profits -- for destroying a long swath of the Alaska coastline in the largest oil spill in American history. "So what can a corporation do to protect itself against punitive-damages awards such as this?" Roberts asked in court.

The lawyer arguing for the Alaska fishermen affected by the spill, Jeffrey Fisher, had an idea. "Well," he said, "it can hire fit and competent people."

The rare sound of laughter rippled through the august chamber. The chief justice did not look amused.

The other major thing I noticed was that NPR's Nina Totenberg, who had the seat very closest to the bench, was wearing a bright, shiny, light brown leather jacket in violation of the dress code that had sent me to Value Village.

As I had been temporarily led to a seat in the row behind her, the court officer had told me to "put away my sunglasses," hanging on the front of my blouse. "They're reading glasses," I replied, alarmed that they she might confiscate them, and I might need them.

"Well put them away," she repeated, and I complied, though they didn't have a fraction of the shine and potential of Nina's leather jacket to distract the Supremes from their Very Important Work.

Oh, here's a link to my curtainraiser story, Cordovans vs. Exxon: Spill victims plead passionate case as high court hears appeal, and a scan of this week's Cordova Times with my story appears below.

My story on the Supreme Court's oral arguments is here online: "Supreme Court weighs case to cut oil-spill award."

And thus have I covered my biggest story in my 35-year career while working for my littlest newspaper, the Cordova Times, circulation 1,000.

UPDATE: My curtainraiser story was mentioned in the Anchorage Daily News Newsreader, image here: ADNnewsreader.jpg

CT-0228_Layout-front.jpg


Click above
to read full-size version.

My second front-page, with a story I wrote, my photo of lead attorney Jeffrey Fisher, and a graphic I helped to put together:

CT_3-06-08Page_1.jpg Click above to read full-size version.




April 16, 2006

The marvels of newspapering in Alaska

It was fascinating during 2004-05 to be working for a crusading community newspaper such as the Tundra Drums (see about its award, here) after a career with stops at the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post.

On the occasion of the Drums' award, I'll note some impressions of newspaper life in Alaska, based on my own background.

I started out in community newspapers, beginning with the Montgomery Journal (which ceased publication last year) in Chevy Chase and later Rockville, Md., and progressing to English papers, including the Surrey Advertiser, and thence to the Gaithersburg Gazette, back in Maryland.

As much as the resources and worldliness of the staff increased as I moved in 1986 to the Sun and in 1991 to the Post, something was missing. Journalists at big newspapers are more likely to view themselves as elites than do the young scrappers at a local paper.

Higher salaries and living in more expensive neighborhoods also tend to push big-city reporters and editors much, much farther from the pulse of the community, their readers. In addition, success depends on assiduous politicking to ensure advancement in the newspaper heirarchy. As Steve Sailor writes here,

To reach a high position in American life, it doesn't pay to waste time associating with a wide range of your fellow human beings. You are much better off spending as much time as possible schmoozing other ambitious people who can help you out. It pays to adopt whatever conventions they exhibit in terms of what you are supposed to talk and write about.

Rural newspaper editors must still interact with a wide range of fellow human beings. Community newspapers in Alaska, given the state's isolated, off-road towns reachable only by airplane, boat, dog sled or snowmachine, serve as the town criers, not much changed since frontier days. You aren't isolated from your readers. The editors live in tiny communities where everyone knows everyone else, and play a far more delicate balancing act than, say, does the editor of the New York Times.

Thus returning to community newspapers in Alaska, beginning in June 2004, on site in Anchorage, felt wonderful. There wasn't the sense of working in a bubble sealed off from those whose life would be affected by the articles we ran.

My job was to help design the Tundra Drums, as well as the Cordova Times, and periodically to design the other papers in the chain (the Seward Phoenix-Log, the Bristol Bay Times, and the Dutch Harbor Fisherman). I also designed and filled in as a reporter for the Arctic Sounder, which gave me nine fascinating days on site in Barrow, the northernmost U.S. city.

The average "niceness" quotient of the editors, reporters, designers and production staff zoomed compared to bigger papers. Of course, this is in part because people in Alaska, journalists and non-journalists alike, are far nicer than those of us on the driven East Coast.

cordovamoose.jpg
Front page of the Cordova Times. Laying out photos like this one made designing an Alaska newspaper a one-of-a-kind experience.

Further, the journalists were jacks-of-all trades, much different to the highly specialized East Coast scribes.

Each editor wrote articles and editorials and sports stories, shot photographs, and typed in the police log, births, obits, pet of the week, calendar, sun and tides and letters to the editor, and shepherded the columnists' work to Anchorage.

Some of the editors knew a fair amount about design. This often made communication far easier than it ever was for me at the Washington Post, where the visual illiteracy of some of the editors, as well as the blind spot some artists had toward being careful with text content, made being a graphics editor on the National and Foreign desks a great challenge.

These Alaska editors and reporters were a different breed altogether, and working with them was fun from Day One.

The most macho we called the Sounder Boys. These were Tim McDonald and James Mason, who worked in the Arctic Sounder bureaus in Barrow and Kotzebue respectively. They were no strangers to liquor, hunting (including Inupiat whale hunts, in the icy dark of early spring), rifles, scopes, snowmachines, dune buggies and husky dogs.

Getting them to file their copy on time was difficult for every reason imaginable, from them not always taking deadlines seriously to terrible phone and e-mail connections not of their making.

But ultimately they hearkened back to the era depicted in The Front PageThe Front Page, Northern Exposure style. They bore no relation to the sometimes paunchy and pale desk-jockeys, in blue shirts and wrinkled khakis, who manned metropolitan dailies. They had to survive, work and be effective in predominantly Native communities, and this made their newspapering quite unique.

***

Every day -- from my very first, when a young, skinny moose walked down the street outside the Alaska Newspapers' office in South Anchorage -- was full of wonder. I commuted by bike along the psychedic purple fireweed-lined paths of the Campbell Creek trail, listening to giant, scarlet-backed salmon in their last days fight upstream along its gravel bed. (Yes, you can hear their stomachs slapping against the rocks.) My last week, heading home, I passed a bigger moose at the side of the trail.

At my desk in the office, my work involved taking the reporters' stories and headlines and photos and reworking them around the ads provided by the ad scheduler, using specialized software (in this case, Quark Xpress). As I poured the stories into boxes, made them fit, and applied headline font sizes and cutline formatting, I let myself absorb the content, of which details below.

My last few days, I suggested to the editor-in-chief, Rose Ragsdale, and the design editor, Kristy Bernier, that I would love to continue working long distance from my home in Baltimore while they looked for my replacement.

We tried the experiment. That it worked was a testament to the open-mindedness of the individual editors to e-mail the components of their papers 4,000 miles away, to a rowhouse in Fells Point, Baltimore, Maryland, and ultimately after corrections, to let the finished product return by e-mail to the main office in Anchorage.

We knew the Sounder Boys were a handful to handle even from Anchorage, and two other editors, both female, seemed more conducive to our experiment in having an off-site designer.

Joy Landaluce of the Cordova Times and Naomi Klouda of the Drums were the most amenable to this arrangement. Every week I tried to make sure they were really happy with how their papers looked, enough to make up for the inconvenience of not having them designed in their home state.

If anything, this arrangement was almost typical of Alaska, with 15 percent of its employees not living in state. (Many live in Seattle and come up for intensive work stints, and return home.) And the flexibility of using technology creatively is extremely important for remote Alaska.

Every weekend for more than 1-1/2 years, I lived on Alaska time (4 hours later than Baltimore) and took a virtual step into a foreign world.

They sent me material each weekend that ranged from hard-hitting exposes to photos of incredible, unaffected charm, of children hunting moose or landing fish, or babies born or elders who had passed. I coudn't help but be fascinated by the stories and photos I was e-mailed every week to lay out on the pages.

Naomi Klouda, the Drums editor, and her reporter, Jon Grover, aided by roving reporter Alex DeMarban flying in from Anchorage, tackled every big issue there was to examine in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta: health care, policing, waste removal, village budgets running dry, politics, tribal organizations, dance festivals, Native arts and crafts.

That was the big, "important" stuff. The newspapers often carried stories of national and international importance, including oil drilling in ANWR (the Arctic Sounder), the crash of a soybean freighter in the Aleutians (the Dutch Harbor Fisherman), and the visit of Sen. Ted Stevens to Bethel and Nome to keep Lisa Murkowski in the Senate and preserve its Republican majority (the Drums and the Sounder).

But the columns, letters, recipes, calendar and police logs were almost more interesting. Every single paragraph in the Tundra Drums and the Cordova Times seems to tell a fascinating story of a place quite different to any other -- quite appealing to any traveler or amateur geographer or reader who likes writing with a strong sense of place.

I probably could have made at least twice as much per hour designing at a major newspaper, but designing the Tundra Drums in particular made up for it with exotic subject matter. These included such staples as:

In Baltimore, our police blotter is full of bar shootings and drug drive-bys. In St. Mary's in Western Alaska, Mother Nature bests innocent humans, with no record except for a snowmachine track ending at a hole in the river.

Meanwhile, the Cordova Times police blotter was altogether more light-hearted, with people reporting stray dogs, children staying out too late and even the tangling of a baby otter in the fishing nets on the dock.

Given the tradition of the thank you in Alaska, I will close with one to everyone at Alaska Newspapers. Often it was a laugh a minute with Robert, Heather Resz, Kristy Bernier and Pat from production and Laurel Bill (who gives great back rubs to stressed-out designers).

Thanks especially to Rose Ragsdale, my former Baltimore Sun colleague. Rose, as editor in chief, ignored my protestations that I did not know newspaper design, only book design, and brought me up to Anchorage in June 2004 for a one-in-a-lifetime experience of learning how to design newspapers, and rural Alaska ones at that. She also housed and fed me dinner during that time. (As well as driving me, with her husband Darrell, to Seward, Homer and Talkeetna for some amazing sight-seeing of zillions of eagles.)

And to Naomi Klouda, for without hesitation signing on to a designer in far-away Baltimore, and sending me an ulu knife and Yup'ik slippers so that my home, and not just my computer files with her stories and finished papers, had a strong flavor of Alaska.

Quyana Rose and Naomi!





April 14, 2006

Tundra Drums wins Alaska press award

It's well past time I wrote more about my fun experiences in Alaska, working for a chain of rural newspapers. (See more here.)

But first congratulations are in order.

The Tundra Drums weekly newspaper in Bethel, Alaska, has won an award in the Alaska Press Club 2006 contest for its examination of the rural justice system in Western Alaska.

My friend Naomi Klouda, the editor of the Tundra Drums, asked me to set up a Web page with the series, which you can see here.

Kudos also to former Alaska Newspapers editors Rose Ragsdale and Alex DeMarban for their keen interest in the matter of rural justice and support for Naomi's investigation.

I played a small role in the series, as the designer (by long distance) of Part 1. (Kristy Bernier, my former boss, designed Parts 2 through 4.)

In this isolated part of the world, villagers may have to wait "hours, days or even weeks for a distant non-resident trooper" to come investigate crimes, given limits on what each village's public safety officer can do. It's amazing to wonder -- given the vast distances and adverse weather of this area, as well as the interplay of tribal and Western notions of justice -- how crimes are handled.

To the social anthropolist, the situation also raises the question of how a public safety officer, often a native of his village, can be expected to impartially deal with crimes such as a cousin or friend bringing in alcohol to a dry village.

Domestic violence, assault and theft, often related to abuse of alcohol, occurs in these villages. And many deaths ruled as suicide occur under murky conditions and may actually be homicides. Part 2 of the Tundra Drums series describes villagers with eyewitness accounts of fatal attacks that did not lead to investigations or the filing of charges.

Part 2 also describes how the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, just across the border in the Yukon, station an officer in every Native village.

Naomi, who I previously wrote about here -- "Beautiful slippers from Western Alaska" -- says farewell to her job this week after two eventful years in the harsh Bush country of Alaska, and plans to locate to the more congenial and artsy town of Homer, on the Kenai Peninsula.

It's a well-deserved change of scenery. Many of us who know Naomi, shown below, admire her prodigious energy and courage in an extremely demanding editing job in one of the harshest climates on Earth.

NaomiKlouda.jpgSometimes we'd be assembling the paper and she would mention "it's blowing 50 miles an hour out there" or "they cancelled the Kusko 300 [sled race] because it's too cold" -- explaining that a pan of water thrown in the air froze immediately, even before falling to the ground, and the dogs might not survive.

The morning after the November 2004 election, all communication was cut off for hours to the paper, and I (working in Baltimore, 4,000 miles away) pulled together a table of local election results via the board of elections Web site in Anchorage. That may be a testament to the Internet, but it also tells that it's not so easy running a newspaper in rural Alaska. It takes a lot of perseverance and calm.

Naomi also faced down some who tried to intimidate her (via a hit-and-run car accident while she was out walking her dog) into not revealing problems with the local hospital and with court and crime issues. Without harping too much on the point, Alaska, as wondrous and grand as it is in most ways, is not always an easy state for women, and rural Alaska more so.

Naomi dealt with a lot in Bethel, from $9/gallon, spoiled milk to the intricacies of the Yup'ik and gussak (white) societies. Hope she enjoys Homer. Say hi to the otters and eagles for me and hope you catch some fine halibut!





June 8, 2004

Liberal columnists and Reagan

It is strange to watch TV coverage of the Reagan era and see Dan Rather et al. presented as neutral commentators on the meaning of his presidency.

"These are Reagan's one-time enemies," I think, watching the news anchors.

As much as liberal newscasters and columnists have attempted for the moment to rein in their tendencies to criticize Reagan, events such as the forthcoming funeral once more illustrate the gap between the media and its customers. Remember how Walter Cronkite and all the other anchors seems so personally distressed at the Kennedy assassination? Definitely no catches in the throat or shaky voices in the media this week, though we see thoughtful and weepy visitors to the Reagan Library on the screen.

This morning I saw an amazing trio of links to Reagan commentary on the Washington Post Web site -- Cohen, Ignatius, and Dionne. Not a conservative in the bunch, though Ignatius has some moderate tendencies.

"These are Reagan's one-time enemies," I thought, again.

After weighing the matter, I decided to read the Post columnists. Overall, it was not as bad as I feared (having seen a faintly damning article (now being trashed by readers here) in the Baltimore Sun by ultraliberal Michael Olesker.

My ratings:

Richard Cohen: B+

Acknowledges Reagan achievements, and writes graciously about a gracious man (one demerit for terming the late president a "fabulist"):

It is the time, though, to acknowledge he was right about the Soviet Union -- it was the "evil empire" -- and about welfare abuses and the occasional arrogant insularity of Big Government. On certain issues, he had been intellectually courageous for breaking with the liberal orthodoxy of Hollywood and his own past.

David Ignatius: B-

Very respectful of the president, but Reagan strikes me as anything but Protean; rather, he struck me as guided by firm principles that did not change the form of his decisions.

Reagan was a Protean leader, capable, like the Greek god, of changing form depending on political needs and circumstances. He talked tough but generally acted with restraint. That ability -- to combine an adaptive and often compromising political approach with the reassuring, changeless language of values -- was part of Reagan's political genius.

E.J. Dionne: C+

Acknowledges probably unintentionally how limited his worldview is ("It was the evening of July 17, 1980. A group of friends had gathered at my apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side to watch Ronald Reagan's acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention. There was not a Reagan supporter in the house, and there were occasional catcalls as he spoke") and cannot resist taking a potshot at Bush. But he touches on a point related to my blog yesterday, that is, Reagan's ability as a former liberal to persuade other liberals to become neo-conservatives:

... I was in awe of a gift of the Gipper's that was insufficiently appreciated among his conservative devotees: Reagan had the New Deal bred in his bones and could talk to Democrats like a Democrat, and in a way no Republican has matched since.

For a far higher order of analysis of Reagan's ability to reach Democrats, see this OpinionJournal piece by two writers from Britain's Economist:

Mr. Reagan may not have been an intellectual, but his sort of conservatism, just like the religious upheaval started by Martin Luther (another anti-intellectual populist) 500 years ago, combined renewal with heresy. The established faith that Mr. Reagan's generation of American conservatives reinterpreted was classical conservatism (the conservatism whose most eloquent prophet remains Edmund Burke), and the heresy they introduced was classical liberalism (the creed of the Enlightenment and John Stuart Mill). ...

If Reaganism had been merely a more vigorous form of old-style conservatism, then it would have been more predictable. In fact, Mr. Reagan-- who began his political life as a New Deal Democrat--took a resolutely liberal approach to Burke's last three principles: hierarchy, pessimism and elitism.

The heroes of Burke's conservatism were paternalist squires, who knew their place in society and made sure everybody else did as well. Mr. Reagan's heroes were rugged individualists, defined by the fact that they do not know their place. He packed his kitchen cabinet with entrepreneurs who built up businesses out of nothing and he worshipped the cowboy. He kept a bronze saddle in the Oval Office and--rather magnificently--rushed to appoint Malcolm Baldridge as commerce secretary when he discovered that he liked going to rodeos.





May 16, 2004

Immigration, multiculturalism and the media

Maryland's current Gov. Robert Ehrlich and former Gov. William Donald Schaefer have inspired a lively reaction for their remarks supporting immigrants learning English and becoming part of a unified American culture.

It is fascinating to observe how various political camps choose various media to publicize these reactions.

Conservatives own talk radio, while liberals control print media. We already know this. Web forums are split and thus contentious but often united by anti-print media sentiment. What is amusing to me is the speed with which the populist Web forums denounce the elitist print media.

Let's start with some background.

Ehrlich's remark that "I reject the idea of multiculturalism" occurred during his weekly chat two Thursdays ago with Ron Smith on WBAL-AM radio. Essentially he made an "in house" remark safely away from the thought police in the print media.

By Saturday, May 8, the story had jumped the moat, landing in the print media, such as the Washington Post. While the Post and the Sun didn't go quite as overboard as the New York Times did in making the non-story of the Augusta National into a media crusade, there are echoes of overkill here — and well as a truly remarkable level of distortion, hyperbole, recklessness and condescension.

The first Post story brought this revealing remark:

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), a first-generation immigrant from El Salvador, said she believes the governor and comptroller need diversity training.

"I think what the governor said absolutely is offensive," Gutierrez said. "It's also a dangerous comment. What I am sensing is that these kinds of comments from leadership, from people who are in high-level positions, are really fueling an environment that is very dangerous and negative. It says it is okay to consider people who are different as something less."

Right off the bat, Gutierrez mischaracterizes the governor's remarks as "dangerous" and as implying inferiority of non-English speakers. She comes up with the typical liberal's totalitarian solution to anyone she disagrees with: a good brain scrubbing at the local Diversity Training lobotomy center.

Next up: Montgomery County Exec Doug Duncan, who again misquotes the governor and appears to make -- but who knows? -- the common error of confusing multiethnicity with multiculturalism:

"People from different backgrounds, different religions, and different parts of the world are what make this country strong," said Duncan, who is considering a challenge to Ehrlich in the 2006 election. "It is troubling to hear anyone degrade our diversity and multiculturalism."

By Wednesday's Post we have the headline "Immigrant Remarks By Ehrlich Still Burn" -- hmmm, could it be because the print media are fanning the flames -- and an the unchallenged implication by Latin leaders that crude unreconstructed racists lead opposition to multiculturalism:

Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez (D-Montgomery), who spoke out against Ehrlich's comments last week, said she has received five "nasty messages," including some telling her and her "people to go back home."

CASA de Maryland, a Latino advocacy group, received two similar voice-mail messages, including one that insisted Schaefer "had it right" and they should "ship us to Iraq so we can be bombed on the front lines," CASA's Kimberly Propeack said.

The Sun next published an article, "Ehrlich has no apology as immigrants protest" that portrayed the discussion of a matter crucial to the future identity of the United States as some sort of political grab by the governor toward the whiter suburban counties. Erhlich won comparison with Adolf Hitler and Newt Gingrich from two persons quoted.

After this wave of so-called news articles, come Sun columnists Dan Rodricks and Michael Olesker to lecture the ignorant masses on the error of their thoughts. Rodricks dismisses the governor sarcastically as a "lettered historian" in league with "angry white males:"

... any time he wants, [Ehrlich] can sound like just another Joe Sixpack, letting off steam about America being overrun with people who no speaky the English.

Well, the print media had their say, and the people responded. On the Baltimore Sun's own Web forum page, in a thread entitled Topic: Rodricks pulls the Hitler analogy, readers found Rodricks' column wearying (as did callers throughout the day to more than one of WBAL's shows). From a poster on the Sun's forum page:

People who believe that residents of this country should speak English when they are in public and who also believe that the teaching of English and U.S. history and culture should take precedence over the teaching of any other country's language, history and culture are often falsely accused of being against the immigrants themselves. This tactic allows the multicultural crowd to divert attention away from the real issue.

The irony is that by citing the success of past immigrants, who attended schools where the teaching of English and U.S. history and culture took precedence over the teaching of any other country's language, history and culture, they are in fact validating the point of the folks who oppose multiculturalism.

The "If it ain't broke let's fix it until it is" crowd never bothers to contemplate how past generations of immigrants contributed to the building of the greatest country the world has ever known without the so called benefits of the multiculturalism they espouse.

Dear Mr. Idiot, I Mean Olesker rounds up more disgust, including a post that:

the sun keeps reporting this story over and over again. i think they're just amazed that no one really gives a crap. they can't believe we are not "sophisticated" enough to be as angry as them.

The merry-go-round continues today, as the Sunattempts to drag the inert non-story forward in Multiculturalism is in their roots; Heritage: Ehrlich's, Schaefer's German ancestors struggled with assimilation in Maryland -- again, note sloppy use of the term multiculturalism.

Readers immediately dismissed the article as liberal propaganda, with a muddled message to boot.

Sun forum posters also jumped over Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley for his rebuttal, in Spanish, of Schaefer's remarks, in a thread entitled O'Malley blasts Ehrlich and Schaefer:

Martin O'Malley has made the transition from promising, rising star to pandering incompetent dolt in just three years. His latest effort to represent Victims, Inc. was even more pathetic then previous cheap shots at the Ehrlich administration. He reminds me of a man living in a falling down house who spends his days whining about his neighbor's crabgrass.

The rest of the country and the world got to sound off on the controversy at the Internet discussion site Fark.com, in threads here and here. What you will see here, quite at odds with the print media depiction, is a lively and at times good-humored debate dominated by common sense views of the necessity of a nation having a common language and culture.

What is the bottom line here?

The unity against the print media on Web forums should be worrisome to newspaper managers. Readers are now a click away -- especially on newspapers' own reader forum sites -- from tearing liberal propaganda to pieces.

Further, the role of newspaper managers in overseeing columnists deserves some scrutiny. Right now we see journalists getting essentially columnist-for-life jobs (see earlier blog on Mary McGrory) and an attendant problem as the evolution of political thought maroons these once-mainstream liberals.

Do Olesker and Rodricks have any remaining audience (or at least, an audience that finds them informative rather than kneejerk) outside the newsroom itself?

An even better question: What should the media's role be in informing the debate on immigration? If I were an editor, I would argue that Samuel Huntington's HuntingtonWho Are We : The Challenges to America's National Identity asks important questions about the U.S.'s national identity, the role of immigration, and how Mexican immigration due to proximity, scale and concentration may be far different from anything previously seen in our national history.

If you would like to learn more about what this Harvard historian thinks, try ParaPundit. It seems as though Schaefer and Ehrlich come far closer to examining immigration based on recent scholarship and common sense than do Rodricks and Olesker.





April 27, 2004

Mary McGrory laid to rest

I grew up reading Mary McGrory's columns in the wonderful Washington Star and eventually worked near her office at the Washington Post. Yesterday she was laid to rest in a funeral attended by Kennedys and their staff.

Toward the end of my three years at the Washington Post, in 1995, the paper got a new computer system and the National section was moved to new quarters that rearranged everyone's desks and placed us graphics specialists outside Mary's office.

McGrory was thoroughly confused at how to operate the new terminals, and came to rely on Barbara and me to help her. I felt a great deal of empathy for her. The entire idea of a graphical interface and using menus and a computer mouse was just plain confusing to someone of her generation. I tried to put my hand over hers on the mouse in teaching her how to create, save and send stories on to editors so that muscle memory might take over and relieve her anxiety. Eventually she got the hang of it.

Mary took us out to a wonderful lunch as a thank you for helping her. The more I read about her orientation toward friendships with men rather than women, what Joel Achenbach called her masculine bias, the more I realize that it was rather special of her to take two women out to lunch.

David Von Drehle quoted a former Star colleague of hers as saying:

She never identified with other woman writers nor did she take up the cause of feminism. Her approach was to say, "I made it in a man's world and you must make it, too, without depending on any philosophical principle like feminism."

Mary reminds me of my Aunt Anna, also Boston Irish and born a few years after Mary, who once worked for Sen. John Kennedy when he first came to Washington, D.C. Both got far in their careers but never married, and it seems that "having it all" eluded many female pioneers.

My life experiences traveling the world and living later in Baltimore led to new viewpoints that put me at an ever-greater remove from McGrory's staunch liberalism; for examples of McGrory's writing, see here.

It might be said that time passed Mary by; not only in the guise of new computers, but realities that mugged many a 1960s liberal. Fresh winds guided more creative thinkers on ways to tackle issues ranging from welfare to terrorism to feminism. As a woman, I eventually decided that Kennedys and Clintons had an innate innobility toward females,

She continued to love Kennedys and to despite Nixon, to hate our efforts in Iraq the way liberals once hated Vietnam. While fellow liberals such as Maureen Dowd called McGrory "the most luminous writer and clearest thinker in the business," conservatives such as Andrew Sullivan berated her for ill-thought-out analogies comparing Iraq and Saudi Arabia and others noted they never agreed with a single one of her columns — so McGrory merely preached to the choir for some portion of her career.

Chappaquiddick and the William Kennedy Smith rape trial and Soviet adventurism and Monica Lewinsky and Sept. 11 changed many once-liberals and Kennedy supporters into apostates. But not McGrory. I kept silent at our lunch about the fact that I had made a switch to conservatism much earlier, by voting for Reagan for president twice. Of course, that had to be kept secret from most of my Washington Post colleagues, and McGrory most of all. One was under no illusion, based on her entire ouevre, that she would view a conservative as anything but a blighted soul.

Still, one feels for her, having been felled by a stroke from writing during her last year. Godspeed, Mary McGrory.





April 26, 2004

The journalist doll

I saw famed actress Maggie Smith onstage enacting a play, "Night and Day," by Tom Stoppard. "The journalist doll," she said in an slashing and bitter aside. "Wind it up and it gets it wrong."

For most of my early, post-Watergate journalism career in the United States, journalism had a reputation of containing at least some pockets of integrity. Meanwhile in Britain, where playwright Stoppard operates, the "hack" label seems to have stuck through the centuries.

The scandal of Jack Kelley's made-up stories for USA Today, on top of the Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass and Janet Cook travesties, seem to have allowed the hack label to apply to journos on this side of the Atlantic, too.

There is at least one Jack Kelley, on a minor scale, right now at the Washington Post. This reporter, who has manned a number of foreign bureaus and gets lots of acclaim, makes his copy editors shudder when each story lands and they attempt to excise the fantasy aspects of the piece. The exact same modus operandi, of underlings well aware of a star's falsities, is described in USA Today's internal memo on Jack Kelley.

What is fascinating is how the public and informed public officials display no surprise whatsoever at reporter lies. Jayson Blair wrote in the New York Times of the views of cow pastures and tobacco fields from Jessica Lynch's front porch in West Virginia, when he never even went to her home town for the story. If he had, he would have noted no such pastures visible. The Lynch family reaction? They just assumed reporters made up stuff all the time. So what?

The USA Today report (remarkable how poorly written and difficult to follow it is) similarly suggests that Defense Department officials, as well as national security and intelligence officers, for example, decided to just ignore Kelley's lies unless they would harm national interest, because complaining to the editors got them nowhere. Isn't that pitiful? As with the Lynch family, newspaper readers came to assume -- correctly -- that reporters lie and newspapers don't care.

You will get a big truckload of lip service by editors at all the nation's top newspapers that they care passionately about accuracy. But star reporters (and others) get away with sloppy work all the time, caught by lower-level copy and assignment editors.

The root of the problem?

Newspapers have perhaps the worst management across the board of any segment of the private sector. Reporters get promoted to editor, editors get promoted over other editors, and there is never a hint of management training along the way or even a reasonable lay grasp of common sense ways to manage people and tasks.

It's no wonder star reporters get away with so much for so long, their shenanigans well known to their colleagues -- and to readers -- but not the top people.

For more, read Howard Kurtz, who notes the jaw-dropping lack of remorse by top editors at the New York Times and USA Today:

But when news organizations screw up, their executives often fail to admit culpability or tell readers and viewers they're sorry. In many cases, they merely issue canned statements and slink into the shadows without answering questions from the sort of nosy reporters they employ to harass everyone else.

And as the implosions at USA Today and the New York Times make clear, newsrooms are sometimes more dysfunctional and paralyzed than the government agencies they cover, with top editors uninformed about problems with subordinates, missing obvious warning signals or intimidating their staff against bringing them bad news.

When Karen Jurgensen was prodded into resigning as USA Today's editor last week in the wake of Jack Kelley's serial fabrications, she did not address her staff or take questions from the press. Neither she nor the two top editors who are also leaving their posts assumed blame or apologized. Managing Editor Hal Ritter said in a statement that he was "upset" about the Kelley situation.As for Jurgensen, her statement said of Kelley, "I wish we had caught him far sooner than we did" -- not all that far from Bush saying that, like everyone else, he wished he had known the 9/11 attacks were coming.





March 22, 2004

Bill Walton, pundit

Last night, in a game vs. the Sacramento Kings, Steve Francis reamed out an official after a no-call that left the Houston Rocket playmaker gasping on the floor, having taken an elbow to the groin. ESPN analyst Bill Walton indicated that profanity was part of Francis's outburst and that he will be fined or suspended.

Then Walton put in a bizarre plug for us to read the latest Frank Rich column in the New York Times.

I have no doubt that 99 percent of the viewers had no idea what Walton was talking about. I barely know anything more than that Frank Rich is a darling of my one liberal friend who reads him and that Rich receives a fair share of criticism on conservative Web sites. Imagine then a Venn diagram (those intersecting circles from math, or logic class) showing the universe of NBA TV viewers and those who also read Frank Rich. Maybe a handful of Knicks fans are in both camps?

So thanks to Walton, just now I read Frank Rich for the first time. He ties in Sept. 11, Janet Jackson's breast-baring and Bono's dropping of the adjectival form of the F-bomb. Rich provides usual tired liberal hyperbole and de rigueur Taliban analogy: "Washington's latest crew of Puritan enforcers — in the administration, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission — are all pandering to a censorious Republican political base that is the closest thing America has to its own Taliban."

Apparently Walton meant to indicate that creeping Puritanism would ensnare Steve Francis as well? Who knows?

If you Google on "Bill Walton" and "Frank Rich," you will come up with four instances of Walton praising Rich in his columns for Espn.com and NBA.com.

We all know Walton's a crunchy granola type, but he might be better off keeping his endorsements of a partisan columnist to Walton's own opinion columns rather than his broadcast persona.





March 13, 2004

Camp X-Ray ... oh, the horror!

The U.K.'s Daily Mirror runs wild with a breathless, one-source story on the alleged horror of captivity for suspected terrorists at Gitmo.

A freed captive alleges treatment that would send Howard Stern careering toward voluntary imprisonment. Prostitutes said to stroke themselves were dangled in front of the more pious inmates.

Oh, and bad inmates had their shampoo taken away!

Does anyone believe Word One of this? It's corroborated by exactly ... nothing. When an interview reads like a parody of a paranoic, editors might want to think twice about running it. Oh wait, they paid perhaps $75,000 for this drivel. See 2nd-to-last item here, subhed "War heroes."





March 11, 2004

Evil stalks

The entire premise of the question in this Washington Post headline, Victims' Relatives Still Ask, Why -- Snipers' Motives Remain Unresolved is based on the secular humanist belief in man as essentially good and perfectable.

Reading further, we learn:

During the trials of John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, Larry Meyers often attended the proceedings, a poignant figure on a wooden courtroom bench trying to learn something about the men who killed his youngest brother, Dean.

He is still in the dark. Dozens of witnesses, hundreds of pieces of evidence and two sentencings later, he cannot comprehend what drove two drifters to become coldblooded snipers.

"I will never understand the total depravity of mind that causes something like this to occur," Meyers said this week as he left the Prince William County courtroom where Muhammad was sentenced to death. "I can never walk in those shoes and understand."

My heart goes out to Larry Meyers, in his quiet loyalty to his slain brother, but there is a good reason the snipers' crimes elude rational comprehension.

Religious believers know that man is flawed and struggling on his way to a relationship with God. There is good and evil in the world, and Muhammad and Malvo are evil made plain. One can readily envision the same Satan as strolls with a Mona Lisa smile on Golgotha in Mel Gibson's Passion as present in the sniper's blue Caprice as they mowed down innocents in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. [As A. Larry Ross notes today, The Passion is really a war movie, pitting good against evil.]

I recall a conversation in my kitchen with a housemate with a housemate holding a Ph.D. in psychology. I had just read a gripping biography of John Wayne Gacy (Tim Cahill's Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer). As with the sniper victims' families, the author ultimately could find no complete explanation for Gacy's murders -- achieved with careful calculation that suggested a sane mind -- without concluding that he may have simply demonstrated the real presence of evil. I asked my housemate about this explanation and she was utterly dismissive -- "It's not important."

So much for the ability of psychology to grapple with society's most dangerous individuals.

One can look forever for "motives" for the inexplicable monsters of history, and come up empty, if one holds that there is no higher presence in the world than that of humankind.





March 8, 2004

Tom Brokaw, Veep?

Three reactions to John Fund's column today, on the possibility of Tom Brokaw as John Kerry's running mate:





March 5, 2004

Tina Brown. Whatever.

More on Mel Gibson's The Passion:

Check out the last sentence of this excerpt from a Tina Brown column:

Hollywood pros marvel at how Mel got the world press to report that the pope had endorsed the movie after a Vatican screening. The pontiff's alleged blurb, as supposedly passed on by a Vatican spokesman and later disavowed by his secretary, was five short words long: "It is as it was." (The papal equivalent, perhaps, of "whatever.")

"It is as it was" connotes that Gibson captured the heart and soul of the Gospel. Tina Brown -- anyone following the logic here? -- somehow equates the Pope's statement with that of a dismissive Valley Girl. I sense a whiff of the English variety of anti-"papist" prejudice overlaying standard Mandarin anti-Catholicism.

[Side note: Can Tina Brown and the incomparable Peggy Noonan really be friends??? See last sentence here.]

Charles Krauthammer also attacks The Passion for its portrayal of the Jews as wicked killers of Christ. He has a point, resting his argument on post-Vatican II teaching and the portrayal of Satan moving among Jewish leaders. It is simplistic to say The Passion is not anti-Semitic, for the Jewish leaders in it are indeed villainous and portrayed as not only rejecting the Messiah within their midst but aggressively seeking his annihilation. I think Krauthammer's objection to 10 minutes shown of scourging falls apart, however ... the reality of what happened to Jesus is encapsulated in this segment. And there's no way around the fact.





March 2, 2004

Is Jerry Stackhouse a bit weird?

Raise your hand if you were baffled by the Wizards player with the hurt knee announcing on Saturday that he was done for the season -- sans physical, sans discussions with team officials. Today (March 1, 2004) Michael Wilbon examines the strangeness of the announcement.

Media question: Why wasn’t this angle in the original story (Feb. 28) by Steve Wyche? Usually teams in all sports announce that a player is sitting out, or done for the season. Wire services even send out lists of, say, football players who are hurt. Stackhouse obviously wasn’t following the normal procedure.

Maybe Jerry’s just busy looking into vacation rentals, so he can create more consternation as ESPN.com reported that he did in the Outer Banks last summer when he stayed in a property eight days (his idea of a week), creating consternation for the next renter.




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