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By Jeremy Schiffres, Daily and Sunday Freeman, Kingston, N.Y.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

From Wasilla to Washington?

Sorry to keep picking on poor Sarah Palin, the newly minted Republican nominee for vice president, but it's just so darn easy.

Having not had the opportunity to hear all of her speech on Friday, I caught a rerun of it this morning on one of the cable TV news channels, and I couldn't help but giggle - and shudder - when she outlined her political experience.

You know someone's political resume is short when they cite, among their recent accomplishments, serving as the president of a PTA chapter and being elected a councilwoman in Wasilla, Alaska.

Yes, the resume of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is short, too: community organizer, state senator, four years in the U.S. Senate. That's pretty much all of it. The difference, though, is at least we've gotten to know Obama over the past 18 months, he's learned and grown during his candidacy, he has some federal-level experience, and we have a sense of what his presidency might be like. And it doesn't hurt that he has a 36-year U.S. Senate veteran with vast foreign policy experience as a running mate.

In Palin, GOP presidential candidate John McCain is asking us to put our faith - in the event that he should die in office (which, unfortunately, is possible when you consider he's 72 years old and has had cancer) - in a person who virtually no one in America had heard of before Friday and whose only leadership experience as recently as December 2006 was being mayor of a town that has a population of 6,500.

Does anyone (read: right-wing spinmeisters trying to make the best of a bad situation) really believe Palin will be qualified, as early as four months fron now, to fix a faltering national economy, command America's military, solve our problems in Iraq, protect us from terrorism and go toe to toe with such brutal dictators as North Korea's Kim Jong Il and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? I think not.

I realize, of course, that most voters base their decisions on the qualifications of the presidential candidates, rather than those of the running mates, but this is one of those rare instances in our nation's history where, perhaps, the electorate should look very closely at the No. 2's on the tickets before pulling the lever.


The politics of choice

From an Associated Press story this morning about evangelical Christians being happy with John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential candidate:

Not only does Palin oppose abortion as a matter of policy, but she chose to give birth to her youngest child, a son, after a prenatal exam indicated Down syndrome. Studies show that about nine in 10 pregnant women who are given a Down syndrome diagnosis have chosen to have an abortion.

"That will resonate in a big way," said Quin Monson, a Brigham Young University professor who studies religion and politics.

Resonate with whom, Mr. Monson? Most Americans - 60 percent of poll respondents, according to Gallup - support a woman's right to choose abortion.


Not exactly a ringing endorsement

Regarding Sen. John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the GOP vice presidential candidate, Dutchess County Young Republicans Chairman Bryan Cranna e-mailed the following statement to local newspapers Friday evening:

"While I am not that familiar with Governor Palin, I do know that Senator McCain has a distinguished record of service to this nation and has made decisions that have helped to define our nation. I am confident that Senator McCain chose a running mate who he can trust and work collectively with to move our country forward."

Apparent translation: "You nominated WHO, Senator McCain? I've never heard of this woman, and I run a Republican organization, for God's sake! I sure hope you know what the heck you're doing."

So do we all, Bryan. So do we all.


Friday, August 29, 2008

Playing the gender card

In making her first public remarks today as John McCain's running mate, GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin praised, as trailblazers for women in politics, both Geraldine Ferraro, the Democratic nominee for V.P. in 1984, and Hillary Clinton, who finished second in this year's race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"The women of America ... can shatter that glass ceiling once and for all," Palin said of the possibility that she could win the second-highest office in the land in the November election and become the first female ever elected to a national post.

In essence, her message - largely to the XX-chromosome half of the electorate - was "Vote for our ticket because I'm a woman."

How unbelievably sexist.

Voting for someone solely because of their gender is as bad as voting against someone solely because of their gender. Likewise, voting for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama simply because he's black would be as racist as voting against him simply because he's black.

Candidates should be judged - and then either accepted or rejected - solely on the grounds of their qualifications. Genitalia and skin color have no impact on a person's ability to hold office.


The Palin truth

Sarah Palin?
John McCain's choice for vice president is Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska?

The McCain people have been prattling on about how Democrat Barack Obama lacks the experience to be president, and then the 72-year-old Republican candidate picks someone whose only real leadership experience is being governor of a sparsely populated state for two years? (Unless you also count that she served as -- wait for it now -- mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, population 6,500, about one-quarter the size of Kingston.)

I just don't get it.

Palin certainly brings some key distinctions to the GOP ticket -- she's only the second female candidate for vice president in the nation's history (perhaps endearing her to some disgruntled supporters of Democratic runner-up Hillary Clinton), and she's a pro-life woman (likely endearing her to hard-line conservatives who have expressed doubts about McCain) -- but if the key qualification for the job of vice president is the ability to become president on a moment's notice, then Sarah Palin, by the McCain camp's own definition, simply is not qualified.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

The stage is set ... again

So now that the Clinton-Obama war that FakeNews (oops, I mean FoxNews) was banking on failed to materialize, what has the network concocted as the controversy of the day? Whether the large, column-style backdrop on the stage where Barack Obama will deliver his acceptance speech tonight is too ostentatious. It looks Roman-esque, the Foxies have been telling us breathlessly all morning, and they’ve repeated, ad nauseum, the mocking response by Republicans that people attending the event at Invesco Field in Denver should wear togas.

My, how short some people’s memories are! The Obama stage, columns and all, is almost a carbon copy of the one on which President Bush delivered his acceptance speech in 2004 at the Republican National Convention in New York City. The first photo below is the Denver stage. The one below that shows Bush speaking four years ago at Madison Square Garden.

And by the way, the columns on the stage at Invesco aren’t meant to conjure up images of ancient Rome. They’re meant to look like the columns of the Lincoln Memorial, in front of which a black leader from an earlier generation, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his landmark “I Have a Dream” speech on – oh yeah, that's right – Aug. 28, 1963 … exactly 45 years ago today. Get it? Of course you do. Too bad Fox doesn’t.

The other “problem” that Fox is trying to play up is that it will be difficult for Obama to make a personal connection with people in an audience of more than 70,000. He doesn’t have to. They’re voting for him anyway. The people with whom Obama needs to connect will be those watching him on TV, and his face will look the same to them whether he’s speaking in a football stadium or a small theater.

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How about all those "deep divisions" between the Obama and Clinton camps at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday?

Did you see when Hillary stormed the stage and demanded to be the party's nominee?
Did you see when all her supporters walked out of the hall?
Did you notice how Bill and Hillary turned their backs on Joe Biden throughout his speech?
And I was shocked -- shocked, I say! -- when Bill took his turn at the mike and told everyone to vote for John McCain and called Obama a dangerous Muslim.
And Chelsea mooning Obama's wife was completely unexpected!

Sorry, Fox. No such luck.

But then again, if any of those things had happened, Fox probably wouldn't have noticed. After all, the home of unfair and imbalanced news didn't even bother to show the historic roll-call vote that resulted in the nomination of the first-ever black candidate for president.

How the hell do you cover a political convention and not show the key event for which the delegates gather?

Fox News is a joke. And a bad one, at that.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another flub by Fox

As I write this, about 5:35 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 27, a man named Michael Wilson - a Republican and a veteran of the Iraq war - is formally nominating Barack Obama for president at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.

The only cable TV news network not carrying it? Fox. Gee, what a shock.

But then, why should Fox waste time showing the nomination of the nation's first-ever black presidential candidate when it can use the time to let Republican blowhard Karl Rove pontificate on screen about how Obama's speech on Thursday in a football stadium could backfire for the Democratic Party?

People used to refer to Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" and the "Weekend Update" segment on "Saturday Night Live" as "the fake news." In reality, that moniker belongs to Fox.


Lacking conventional wisdom

I’ve been aware of presidential elections since I was 5 years old (in 1968), and I’ve been following the party nominating conventions since I was 9 (in 1972), but never before this year have I seen so much TV coverage of a convention devoted to commentary and so little of it devoted to actual news.

Instead of showing us what’s happening on stage at the Pepsi Center in Denver, home of this week’s Democratic National Convention, the three major broadcast networks and cable outlets CNN, MSNBC and the laughably unfair and imbalanced Fox News have devoted most of their air time to letting analysts and party officials tell us what they think – and what we should think – is happening.

Case in point, most of the anchors and commentators have spent inordinate amounts of time since Monday trying to convince us, the viewers and voters, that there are deep and perhaps irreparable divisions in the Democratic Party between the supporters of presumptive nominee Barack Obama and runner-up Hillary Clinton. Too bad no deep divisions exist. Sure, the two camps have their differences, and I have no doubt that some Clinton supporters will refuse to vote for Obama in November, but the reality is that the vast majority of Democrats will pull the lever for their party’s candidate on Election Day, and the vast majority of Republicans will get behind presumptive GOP nominee John McCain. The election will be decided, as has been the case since 2000 and perhaps earlier, by independents and those few major-party enrolees who truly are undecided at this point.

I mean, seriously, does anyone really believe die-hard Clinton supporters, for whom women’s rights issues are of major importance, are going to vote for McCain, who has vowed to stack the Supreme Court with opponents of abortion rights? And does anyone really believe hard-line conservatives, who are less than thrilled with McCain because of some of his moderate positions, will abandon the Republican candidate and vote for a liberal Democrat like Obama instead? Yeah, right.

The only reason the news outlets are playing up the alleged (read: virtually non-existent) divisions in the Democratic Party this week is because they need to spice up their coverage of an event that otherwise is painfully boring and virtually unwatchable. Put simply, if nothing exciting is happening on the convention stage or floor, the broadcasters have to concoct something that at least appears to be exciting.

And – mark my words – they’ll do it all over again next week, when the Republicans convene for their quadrennial snoozefest in Minnesota.

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Monday, August 25, 2008


Just got back from an eight-day vacation with my wife and son. Here are some things you might like to know (or not).

* The bad news is there was a tropical storm, Fay, the entire time we were away. The good news is the storm was in Florida and we were on Cape Cod. It sure looked nasty on TV, though.

* The weather on the Cape was exceptionally good. Except for a harmless rain shower that came and went in less than half an hour on Tuesday, we almost never saw a cloud in the sky.

* I had trouble locating a street in Hyannis that I needed to get to on Thursday, so I stopped into a convenience store/gas station and asked the clerk where it was. He said he didn’t know. Frustrated, I drove away from the store, and found the street a mere one block away. Seriously, if you’re gonna work in a gas station – or a store or restaurant – in a tourist town, know where things are … especially in your own neighborhood!

* I read two books while lounging near our hotel’s pool and started a third. The two I finished were John Grisham’s “Playing For Pizza,” one of the author’s few non-law-related novels, and a book by Cape Cod resident Marcia J. Monbleau called “The Inevitable Guest.” “Playing For Pizza” is about a washed-up third-string NFL quarterback who reluctantly agrees to play football in Italy and winds up falling in love with a less-than-professional version of the game, the local cuisine and a leggy co-ed. It’s a fun and touching story from a writer whose works almost never have been described as fun or touching. “The Inevitable Guest” is a hilarious, Dave Barry-style primer on how to be both a good visitor and a good host on Cape Cod. People who live on the Cape and those who visit regularly will laugh out loud from cover to cover. Other people, not so much. The book I started, but have not yet completed, is “What Happened,” the White House tell-all by former Bush press secretary Scott McClellan. I’ll share my thoughts after I finish it.

* In an Aug. 9 post, I boasted about how well the Los Angeles Angels were playing. During our time on the Cape, they managed to win only two of the seven games they played from Sunday to Saturday. But the other teams in the American League West are so dreadful that the Angels – now 17 games ahead of the second-place Texas Rangers with just over 30 games left to play – can pretty much sleepwalk through the rest of the regular season and still win the division by a landslide.

* I turned 45 on Wednesday. If you forgot to send me a birthday card, you’re forgiven.

* Boston Red Sox legend Carl Yastrzemski, thankfully, survived his heart scare and bypass surgery while we were on the Cape. If he had died, all of Massachusetts probably would have shut down for a weeklong period of mourning. (Seriously, though, I’m glad Yaz is doing OK. Even though never a Red Sox fan, I loved to watch him play when I was a kid, and I wish him nothing but good health and a long life.)

* Virtually every restaurant on Cape Cod claims its clam chowder has been “voted best on the Cape.” Funny, though, they never tell you who voted them the honor or when it happened. Seems fishy – or clammy – to me.

* Like many homeowners, Rhona and I have an outdoor gas grill that we love to use during the summer. The place where we stay on the Cape provides grills for the guests to use on their patios, but only the charcoal variety. And you know what? The food always tastes better than when we cook it on our deck in Kingston. I’ve said this before, but this time I mean it: Next time I have to buy a new grill, I’m switching to charcoal.

* Six-year-old girls shouldn’t wear bikinis. Doing so makes it appear that they (or, worse yet, their parents) are trying to show off undeveloped bodies, and that’s more than a little bit creepy. They’re gonna be 16 and 26 soon enough. Let them be 6 for a while. A one-piece swimsuit will do just fine.

* Never am I more glad to be a Citizens Bank customer than when we’re on the Cape. The bank has numerous branches there, including several that are inside Stop & Shop grocery stores, and that means I don’t have to pay a ridiculous service fee to get money at an ATM.

* Speaking of ridiculous expenses, gas on the Cape was running about $3.89 a gallon during our week there. On the Mass Turnpike, however, we saw prices as low as $3.68.

* Tiny Woods Hole, Mass., at the lower left corner of Cape Cod, was the only community on the Cape in which we encountered parking meters, reminding me of all the uproar in Kingston last year about how installing meters in the Uptown, Midtown and Downtown business districts would drive away tourists. Well, it sure hasn’t driven them away from Woods Hole. Virtually every space on the main street was taken, and the sidewalks, shops and restaurants were jammed with visitors. The bottom line is vacationers don’t mind having to pay a little extra for this, that and the other thing. If they can afford the vacation, feeding 25 or 50 cents into a parking meter won’t break them.

* Lastly, despite being on a break from the news business, I couldn’t help but watch some of Saturday’s TV coverage of Barack Obama picking Joe Biden to be the Democratic vice presidential candidate. Most of the cable news operations handled the story about as I expected they would – providing background on Biden, having talking heads comment on the selection and getting reactions from key Democrats and Republicans – but Fox News managed, yet again, to bring unfair and imbalanced to a new level or absurdity. At 2:45 p.m., less than eight hours after Biden was announced as Obama’s running mate, Fox ran one of those bottom-of-the-screen headlines, stating “Poll: Most voters not swayed by choice of Biden.” At no point, however, did any of Fox’s on-air personalities mention such a poll, say where or when it was conducted, state how many people were surveyed or explain how such a conclusion could be reached so soon after the news happened. The reality, I presume, is that no such poll existed. Fox simply was eager to put something on the screen to suggest Obama would not get the traditional “bump” in the polls that usually follows the selection of a running mate. Just another example of how nothing Fox does – especially during election season – can be taken seriously.


Friday, August 15, 2008

Bloggus interruptus

My blog and I are going on a brief hiatus.
My next post should be on or about Aug. 25.
Until then, talk amongst yourselves.


Don't read this on your iPhone while driving

There’s an article in this morning’s New York Times about a proposal to prohibit text-messaging while driving anywhere in New York City’s five boroughs.

The impetus for the legislation, which the City Council is to take up next month, is a horrific accident 14 months ago in the Finger Lakes region in which five teenage girls from the Rochester area were killed when their sport utility vehicle crossed into oncoming traffic on a rural road and struck a tractor-trailer head-on. The police investigation of the tragedy revealed the girl who was driving the SUV was sending text messages on her cell phone just seconds before the crash and apparently had taken her eyes off the road just long enough for her vehicle to drift over the double-yellow line.

That a ban on “texting while driving” is being proposed is unsurprising. Any law that helps protect drivers – especially young drivers – and the people they may crash into makes sense. What is surprising is that civil liberties groups, most notably the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, oppose the New York City legislation. “To criminalize all stupid behavior is fruitless,” Joseph L. Bast, the group’s president, told the Times when asked about the proposed texting ban.

Mr. Bast’s argument would make sense if things like drunken driving and texting while driving imperiled only the offender. But as the Finger Lakes accident – and so many drunken-driving accidents – have demonstrated, the lives of innocent bystanders often are cut short by the careless acts of others.

One would think people are smart enough not to send or read text messages while driving. But that apparently isn't the case. So if criminalizing the act is what it will take to prevent more senseless deaths, I say "yea."


Siphoning our savings

I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep repeating it until I’m blue in the face: We’re being robbed at the gas pump.

The price of crude oil is now down a whopping 24 percent from its recent all-time high, having fallen from roughly $147 to $111 a barrel.

Gasoline, meanwhile – using the Strewart’s Shop closest to my house as a barometer – has fallen a mere 4.7 percent, from $4.19 to $3.99 a gallon.

Given the 24 percent drop in the price of oil, that Stewart’s Shop should be charging $3.18 for a gallon of gas. Any station charging more than that – and let’s face it, every station is charging more than that – should be investigated, and punished, by the state Attorney General’s Office for gouging.


Riotous retailing

I was picking up some items in the Walgreens drugstore at Kingston Plaza this morning and was quite amused to see condoms and baby food in the same aisle.

It would seem those two items should be kept as far apart as possible.


Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Olympic Shames

The Chinese government hoped the 2008 Summer Olympics, currently being held in Beijing, would cast in a positive light a nation long reviled for human rights violations, the oppression of its own people and many old Communist ways.

So far, since the Games opened, China has:

* Used computer trickery to make the opening-night fireworks look more spectacular than they actually were.
* Had an adorable Chinese girl lip-sync a song at the opening ceremonies over the voice of a slightly-less-adorable Chinese girl.
* Fielded a girls’ gymnastics team that, most likely, has members who are younger than the minimum allowed age of 16. (A photo in the Sports section of today’s New York Times clearly shows that Chinese gymnast Deng Linlin in missing an upper front tooth. How many 16-year-old girls do you know who still are losing their baby teeth?)

I didn’t think it possible, but China apparently will have a worse reputation after the Games end than it did before they began.


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

PC police declare war

Perhaps you've heard that advocates for the developmentally disabled are calling for a boycott of the new movie "Tropic Thunder" because the dialogue in the Ben Stiller war comedy includes repeated use of the word "retard."

Cable TV news operations have started paying attention to the boycott call - some going to the ridiculous extremes of referring to "retard" as "The R Word" and calling the controversy "RetardGate" - and Fox, for its part, had Special Olympics CEO Timothy Shriver on the air this morning, making the case for the public to skip the movie.

And what happens every time a TV news operation reports on the controversy? It shows a clip from the movie, of course!

Don't the opponents realize that all they're doing is giving the movie free publicity?

And as anyone in advertising will tell you, there's no such thing as bad free publicity.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Political reality check

Howard Wolfson, a top aide to Hillary Clinton during the former first lady's presidential campaign, said on Monday that if John Edwards had come clean about his extramarital affair sooner - and, consequently, been forced to quit the race for White House earlier than he did - Clinton would have won the Democratic nomination instead of Barack Obama.

Wolfson's argument is that disgruntled Edwards supporters, with their candidate out of the picture, would have been more likely to back Clinton than Obama, allowing Clinton to do better in the primaries than she did and pick up more delegates along the way.

Just one problem with your theory, Mr. Wolfson: Even without the affair being public knowledge at the time, Edwards ended his campaign very early in the process - on Jan. 30, to be exact, after only two primaries and two caucuses had been held - and Obama still managed to win the majority of the remaining primaries and pick up the majority of the remaining delegates. If Edwards supporters were so likely to jump to Hillary, she would have done much better than she did after Edwards quit the race.

Clinton didn't lose because Edwards hung around for too long. Clinton lost because voters liked Obama more than they liked her. It's time for Hillary and Bill Clinton, Howard Wolfson and all of Mrs. Clinton' supporters to come to grips with that fact.


Only the GOOD news is fit to print

"You forget about the losses, you exaggerate the wins."
- Lyric from "The Road," by Jackson Browne, 1977

Last Monday, Aug. 4, The New York Times devoted two-thirds of its front Sports page to coverage of the previous day's Yankees-Angels baseball game, which the Yankees won 14-9. There also were one large and two smaller photos from the game on the page, and yet another photo appeared with the continuation of the story on the third page of the section.

This morning, Aug. 11, reporting on the Angels 4-3 win over the Yankees yesterday in a nail-biting game that wasn't settled until the final at-bat, the Times' relegated the story to page 11 of the Sports section and ran one small photo with it.

Message to the Times: If you're going to be a team's hometown paper, you have to provide equal coverage of the team's highs and lows.

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Saturday, August 9, 2008

Angels in the stratosphere

I usually don't brag when a sports team I root for is doing well — for fear of jinxing a good thing — but it's hard not to gloat just a little about this year's Los Angeles Angels.

It's Aug. 9, and the Halos are a mind-blowing 30 games over .500, they have the best record in the Majors and they hold a staggering 14-game lead over the second-place Texas Rangers in the AL West.

And the icing on the cake is the Angels have absolutely owned the Boston Red Sox this year, winning eight of nine meetings with the defending World Series champions. That's significant because Boston is the one team that consistently has given the Angels fits — in the regular season and, more importantly, in the playoffs. (You might recall the Red Sox swept the Angels in the ALDS in both 2004 and 2007 en route to World Series victories each year.) Having Boston's number this year is huge, given the possibility that the two teams will meet in the playoffs.

The only downside to how well the Angels are doing is that baseball has become boring for me. There's no pennant race to be concerned about, wins don't really matter, and losses don't hurt very much. Put another way, it's not much fun to watch a movie when you know how it's gonna end.

But then, only the outcome of the regular season is assured at this point. The playoffs and the World Series are another story altogether. And any number of runaway favorites to win a national sports title — did someone say New England Patriots? — can tell you that nothing is assured once the slate is wiped clean at the beginning of postseason play.

So I'm not making any bold predictions.


All Edwards, all the time

In the news today:
• Russia and the republic of Georgia are on the brink on all-out war.
• The first full day of competition at the Summer Olympics in Beijing has been marred by the brutal murder of an American visitor.
• The talented comedian and actor Bernie Mac has died at the much-too-young age of 50.

So what were CNN, Fox News and MSNBC devoting most of their air time to when I turned the TV on this morning?
John Edwards, John Edwards and John Edwards.

For heaven's sake, the guy isn't an elected official anymore, he's not running for anything, the affair that he admitted on Friday happened two years ago, and his wife has known about it for quite some time. How much coverage do we need beyond being told what happened?

Stupid question, I know. We are, after all, talking about cable TV news, which fast is becoming an extension of the celebrity gossip industry; and we are, after all, talking about the sex life of a public figure. Put simply, CNN, Fox News and MSNBC just couldn't help themselves.

But enough already. There are more important matters about which the public needs to be kept informed, and we have a right to expect that large and influential news organizations will adhere to that responsibility.


Friday, August 8, 2008

If at first you don't succeed ...

The weekly newspaper that I criticized in my last entry for failing to check with police before referring to a local homicide as a possible hate crime has published a follow-up story in its latest edition.

The headline: "Searching for a break: Police say no evidence of hate crime in East Kingston homicide."

Gee, ya think?

The same headline could have been written a week earlier if the paper had bothered to check with authorities before simply repeating unsubstantiated speculation.

I hope the paper has learned its lesson about jumping to conclusions without first checking the facts.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Shoddy journalism

With just one exception, I have never used this blog to criticize another Hudson Valley newspaper. Yes, I think we at the Freeman provide the best local news coverage, but I don’t feel the need to make that point publicly — or expose what I see as the shortcomings of other local media — because I believe our work speaks for itself, and I see no real benefit in bad-mouthing others.

But I have been so steamed since reading the most recent edition of one of the local weekly newpapers (henceforth to be referred to as "the weekly"), that I cannot hold my tongue.

A front-page story in the July 31 edition of the weekly, reporting on a grisly killing in the East Kingston section of the town of Ulster, was headlined “Hate crime? Police consider anti-gay motive in East Kingston homicide.”

The headline, and the premise of the story, were wrong — dead wrong — and I’ll explain why in a moment. First, though, some background for those of you who don’t follow local news:

Firefighters, responding to a call of a vehicle ablaze the afternoon of July 25 in a wooded area of East Kingston, found a gray Nissan pickup on fire and a dead man inside. In the days that followed, police said the truck was registered to a 59-year-old Kerhonkson man named Michael Kleiman and that Kleiman had not been seen since. Police would not, however, say that the dead man was, in fact, Kleiman because they were — and still are — awaiting the results of DNA tests. (We later learned the tests were needed because the dead man’s head and hands apparently had been removed before the truck was set ablaze, meaning the body could not be ID’d through dental records or fingerprints. Police would not confirm this, though they did say the man was killed elsewhere and then brought to the East Kingston woods, where the pickup was torched.)

We — and when I say “we,” I mean Freeman ace reporter Paul Kirby — also learned Kleiman was/is gay, though we didn’t see any reason to publish that fact unless it turned out to be relevant to the crime.

Then came Ginny Apuzzo’s e-mail, which was sent to both Kirby and the weekly.

Apuzzo, who runs a local group for gays called the LGBTQ Community Center, wrote that police had contacted the center, seeking any information that its members might have about Kleiman. In the same e-mail, Apuzzo wrote that “police believe the murder may be gay-biased.” In other words, a hate crime.

The weekly simply took Apuzzo’s written words and ran with them. “Hate crime” in the headline. “Anti-gay attack” in the first paragraph. Sensationalism at its best — and ugliest.

If the reporter at the weekly had bothered to get Apuzzo on the phone and ask her the obvious question — “Did police really say this to you?” — he would have gotten the same answer that Kirby got when he posed that query to her. It was a sheepish response along the lines of “Uh, no, I just assumed.”

And if the reporter at the weekly had bothered to get town of Ulster Police Chief Paul Watzka on the phone and ask him the obvious questions — “Did your department tell Ginny Apuzzo this might have been a hate crime?” and “Do you believe it was a hate crime?” — he would have gotten the same answers that Kibry got: “Absolutely not” and “Absolutely not.” And, indeed, our July 31 story on the homicide carried the following sentence: Watzka said emphatically on Wednesday that police do not believe the killing was a bias crime.

In this era of instantaneous electronic communications, it’s tempting and oh so easy to simply take words from press releases, e-mails, text messages and voice mails and repeat them as facts. But that’s not journalism, that’s regurgitation. Journalism involves digging deeper, asking follow-up questions, checking and double-checking facts and being 100 percent sure of a story’s accuracy before putting it in print.

The Freeman knows this and made sure to get the Apuzzo story right before publishing it. I wish I could say the same for the weekly.


Revisionist television

NBC’s “Today” show this morning televised the pomp and pageantry of the Olympic flame being passed from one torch bearer to another in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Ah, Tiananmen. So majestic. So regal. So symbolic.

… and the site of an estimated 800 pro-democracy demonstrators being murdered by savage Chinese troops on June 4, 1989.

But NBC conveniently forgot to mention that.

I realize the Peacock Network has a ton of money invested in its broadcasts of the upcoming Summer Games in China, and that it wants to focus on all that’s good about the quadrennial sporting event, but ignoring history won’t make it go away.

It will, however, make NBC look ridiculous.


Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gambling with Griffey

I don't claim to be a baseball expert. A fan? Yes. But an expert? Not by a longshot.

That said, I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why the Chicago White Sox went to all the trouble of trading for slugger Ken Griffey Jr. only to put him in center field — where he no longer is capable of playing well because of his limited mobility — and have him hit seventh in the lineup.

If Griffey, who has the most career home runs among active players, was brought to Chicago to add power at the plate to a team vying for a playoff berth, he should be hitting no lower than fifth in the order. And putting him in center field, where he runs the risk of hurting himself chasing down fly balls and base hits, is just plain reckless. The Cincinnati Reds understood this when they moved Junior from center field to right field. It would seem to me that White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen should understand it, too.

But then, I'm just a fan, not an expert. So what do I know?


Food for thought

The CBS Evening News had a report on Monday about the dangerously high calorie counts in popular kids' meals at fast-food restaurants.

A mother in one of the restaurants, being interviewed as her two young children chowed down on food she knew was bad for them, said she wished there were "more options" available to her.


Virtually anything you make for them at home will be healthier than fast food, it'll cost you less, and you won't have to use any overpriced gasoline in the process.