“The Victor and the Vanquished”

By Ryan Chittum Reading the Vanity Fair excerpt of Sarah Ellison's upcoming War at The Wall Street Journal, on Rupert Murdoch's takeover of The Wall Street Journal, is, well, dispiriting (and I lived through part of it). Ellison shows in detail how swiftly Murdoch was able to crush his opponents, in this case top editor Marcus Brauchli, with hardly a fight. No...

Fox News Analyst Calls Times Sq. Bomb Incident “Astounding Intelligence Failure”

Well it didn’t take long for the politicization of the failed Times Square terrorist plot to start. Earlier today, Fox News analyst Peter Johnson, Jr. was a guest on America’s Newsroom and was not demure in criticizing the government’s role in failing to uncover the failed plot. Nevermind that the suspect was apprehended within 53 hours and 20 minutes of planting the bomb (according to NY Police commissioner Ray Kelly), or that nobody was injured. Instead Johnson felt it an appropriate time to criticize our country’s anti-terrorism efforts.

Honolulu Civil Beat Launches With PayPal As The Great Link, Lower Trial Fee

Civil Beat First Edition

Honolulu Civil Beat, Pierre Omidyar’s experiment in local subscription-supported journalism, went fully live today, complete with a first-edition headline you can’t get past without paying 99 cents for a 15-day trial. Unless someone shared the link with you—then you can see it for free if you link your PayPal account. PayPal isn’t only the way to pay for membership at Civil Beat, it’s the authentication system for access.

Linking a PayPal account gives Civil Beat permission to bill the account if you buy anything; this “allows you to make instant purchases of content without the need for you to sign in to PayPal each time you make a purchase.” For “a limited time,” linking your account comes with free access to content shared by members. (I’m not a member but was able to create an free-access link by trying to share the post I couldn’t read on Facebook.)

Paywall at work: Between Omidyar and founding editor John Temple, Civil Beat is one of the most eagerly awaited news startups/experiments. It’s also among the least accessible because of the decision to require payment to read most of the content from the start. I’m not saying that’s right or wrong; simply stating a fact. Hawaiians who want to read it all and take full part in discussions will have to pay $19.99 a month once the trial ends. (It looks like non-members can read discussions but commenting is reserved for members.) So will news junkies or people who want to support/follow Civil Beat for the journalism. Omidyar isn’t running the Hawaiian version of the nonprofit Texas Tribune, relying on a mix of backing, foundation money and membership fees that aren’t linked to access. Civil Beat is a business and this is the business model.

The paywall is omnipresent—as are reminders of how to pay. “Join the discussion by becoming a member.” “View the rest of this topic page by becoming a member.” “View the rest of this article by becoming a member.” it’s not a hard sell as much as it is a pragmatic one. You were interested enough in this topic to click, now pay if you’re really interested.

Trial fee lowered: Civil Beat started with a $4.99 fee for a one-month trial before escalating to $19.99. Now, the trial is 99 cents for 15 days—much more likely to draw impulse triers as long as they’re comfortable with using PayPal and with the conversion to $19.99 at the end of the period unless they cancel. 

PayPal as login: When Civil Beat‘s site went live last month, I mentioned that PayPal was the only way to pay—which is to be expected given that Omidyar is the founder of eBay (NSDQ: EBAY). What didn’t sink in at the time was that PayPal also would be the only way to log in once you make that payment. It’s not unusual to link logins and payments: iTunes and Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) do it, among others. It may be more offputting to me because I only use my long-time PayPal account for spot payments and prefer not to have it connected with anything else, but I think Peer News would help itself if it found a way to allow members to use an alias.

Full chart of local and metro newspapers with paywalls


Peter Hart: Checking ABC’s Factcheck: Scrutiny of This Week Better in Theory Than Practice

On its surface, the announcement by ABC's This Week that the website PolitiFact would monitor the show's content was a welcome development, despite the obvious downside that the Web-only fact-checking would deprive the show's TV audience of needed correctives. But an evaluation of the record thus far suggests that even this limited attempt to test the accuracy of claims made on the show has focused largely on trivial points and ignored more substantive and controversial arguments.

So far, the PolitiFact assessments of This Week -- which started on April 11, thanks to a suggestion from New York University professor Jay Rosen--have focused on relatively trivial matters. On one program, Bill Clinton said, "I never had a filibuster-proof Senate." PolitiFact determined this was true. Was anyone suggesting otherwise? Republican Sen. Jon Kyl noted (4/11/10) that Barack Obama had joined with other Democratic senators in an attempt to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, which PolitiFact also judged to be true (and which also is not subject to much debate). When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responded to a question about a Mideast peace plan by saying, "I don't answer hypotheticals," PolitiFact attempted to determine whether that stray comment was true.

Not every assertion analyzed has been so trivial. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates appeared on the program (4/11/10), he was asked about a video released by Wikileaks that showed U.S. helicopters firing on a group of Iraqis in 2007, killing a dozen people. Gates responded by saying that "the video doesn't show the broader picture of the firing that was going on at American troops."

PolitiFact judged that statement "Mostly True," based in part on the military's previously disclosed investigation of the incident, which claimed that weapons were found near the victims' bodies. To its credit, PolitiFact quoted Salon's Glenn Greenwald, who argued that Gates' response was "sufficiently vague that it can't be called factually false, but is quite misleading." Greenwald noted, for instance, that a firefight somewhere else would not justify the attacks portrayed in the video, and that those killed in an apparent attempt to retrieve some of the victims could not plausibly be considered as posing a threat to U.S. forces. So what would make Gates' words "mostly true," then?

This kind of analysis feeds the impression that everything else on these particular programs was more or less true or uncontroversial. But on many of these same episodes of This Week, guests and panelists have made puzzling comments that cried out for greater scrutiny or explanation. On April 18, for instance, Wall Street Journal columnist Kim Strassel seemed to echo a right-wing talking point that the Democratic Wall Street reform bill will actually create additional taxpayer bailouts of financial giants. Fellow panelist Al Hunt disagreed. Was one of ABC's panelists wrong about this, or was it a simply a disagreement over a matter of opinion?

PolitiFact had weighed in on this question already (4/14/10), determining that Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's claims about bailouts were false: The language of the bill, as it was written at the time, concerned a special fund paid for by the industry that would be used to liquidate failing institutions--which is very different from being bailed out. So why not step in and clarify this argument between the panelists?

When host Jake Tapper interviewed former President Bill Clinton, he asked about regulation of Wall Street derivatives and the separation of banks' commercial and investment businesses. This led Clinton to bring up the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which critics argue led to some of the consolidation in the financial services industry over the past decade. Clinton, though, argued that the deregulation -- championed by several Republicans and by the banking industry -- actually increased regulation: "There was already a total merger, practically, of commercial and investment banking, and really the main thing that [the repeal of] the Glass-Steagall Act did was to give us some power to regulate it." This is an unusual suggestion -- that a major deregulatory policy was in fact a move towards greater regulation -- and something that deserved greater examination.

On the April 25 show, ABC pundit George Will declared his support for the construction of a wall on the U.S./Mexico border: "Build the fence, do what McCain suggests, and you'll find that the American people are not xenophobic, they are not irrational on this subject, but they do want this essential attribute of national sovereignty asserted." When pressed by panelist Cynthia Tucker about the cost of this project, Will quipped: "It's a rounding error on the GM bailout." The border fence project has been marked by delays and cost overruns; the Government Accountability Office released an evaluation last year (AP, 9/18/09) that found that it could cost $6.5 billion to maintain the fence over 20 years -- on top of the $2.4 billion spent on 600 miles of fencing so far. A 2007 report by the Congressional Research Service estimated that a 700-mile fence could cost $49 billion over 25 years (San Francisco Chronicle, 1/8/07). ABC viewers could have benefited from some sort of clarification on this point.

It goes without saying that the ABC/PolitiFact effort could be a step in the right direction. Their network competitors have shown no interest in following ABC's lead; NBC's Meet the Press host David Gregory (Washington Post, 4/12/10) said that he was not interested: "People can fact-check Meet the Press every week on their own terms." CBS's Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer (Yahoo!News, 4/22/10) said that "everybody's welcome to fact-check us all they want," adding: "I kind of think that by the time we get around to fact-checking...we'd already be fact-checked."

Those dismissals are, at the very least, alarming. But it's little comfort that an effort that could in theory produce more rigorous fact-checking has so far offered so little.

Google E-Book Sales Start This Summer

Man Reading Computer Book

Google (NSDQ: GOOG) plans to add e-book sales to its massive free e-book offering sometime this summer, the company told book industry insiders today. Chris Palma, Google’s manager for strategic-partner development, said consumers using Google’s book search will be able to buy digital versions of current and backlist books, according to the WSJ. Retailers, including indies, will be able to sell Google Editions from their own sites and get the “bulk” of the revenue; a previously reported 67/33 split. 

Google’s free titles are offered by several e-reader makers—including those without commercial e-bookstores—as ways to make the device instantly worthwhile without paying extra for books. That includes Sony (NYSE: SNE) and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS)—both of whom Google will be competing with for e-book sales along with Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL).

Update: Initial plans called for the e-bookstore to launch by the end of last year, then backed it out to June 2010. Palma’s comments suggest that is on track but, based on the WSJ report, he appears to have left some room by saying early summer. Google promises its books will be device agnostic.


Glenn Beck Is Against Mother’s Day Now?

Uhm... o-kay. Here's what is going on with this. Apparently, the people from the Vermont Teddy Bear Company had a sponsorship deal of some kind with Glenn Beck's radio show. You know the sort of deal: the host takes a moment to read some ad copy on the air about what a great product the Vermont Teddy Bear is, maybe get it for your mom on Mother's Day? That sort of thing. Beck's been in the radio biz for decades, so this should be no big deal, right?

Wrong! Beck, for reasons I suppose only he can understand, interrupted his monotone introduction of the ad copy by going off on an anti-Mother's Day screed, calling it a "big business scam" that was created by Woodrow Wilson -- whom Beck "hates." Then, apparently realizing that he had essentially trashed the hopes of his sponsor, he momentarily slagged Hallmark before pimping Vermont Teddy Bears and their delightful scents.

There are no chalkboards on the radio, so I think this is how it's supposed to work: Mother's Day was the idea of Anna Jarvis, who created it in 1908 and promoted it as a national holiday. Her home state of West Virginia made it a holiday in 1910. Congress passed a law on May 8, 1914, establishing it as a holiday, and, the next day, President Wilson enshrined it with a presidential proclamation. As it turns out, Jarvis eventually came to believe her holiday had become a "big business scam." She was arrested in 1948 for disturbing the peace whilst protesting the holiday in New York City, and was especially militant when it came to greeting cards, which she despised.

So, that's how you get Mothers Day--->scam---->Woodrow Wilson---->suck it, Hallmark. Still, I'm guessing that the Vermont Teddy Bear Company would have preferred that Beck just stuck to the copy.


BECK: Our sponsor this half hour is the Vermont Teddy Bear Co. Vermont Teddy Bear is getting ready for Mother's Day weekend.

Can you believe Mother's Day week -- by the way, Sarah and I were talking on Saturday and she didn't believe me, or it was on Friday, and she didn't believe me. And I said, Mother's Day, it's a scam. It's a big business scam. And I said, I bet it was started by Woodrow Wilson. Look it up, Sarah. And she didn't. I said, look it up. She's like, no, I'm not going to look it up. I said, look it up, I'll bet you, I'll bet you. Mother's Day? Started 1914. Woodrow Wilson. Hate that guy. Love my mom. Hate the holiday. Now, you could go to Hallmark because Hallmark and Woodrow Wilson would like you to do that.

But there's something new from Vermont Teddy Bear. Three handmade teddy bears in pink, green, and white. The bears are scented, each one with a different scent: strawberry, watermelon and cupcake. It's like a bouquet of flowers, only it's a bear bouquet for life. Call 1-800-829-BEAR or go to VermontTeddyBear.com, VermontTeddyBear.com. Something new for mom this year to let her that you love her and you're thinking about her. The bear bouquet. From Vermont Teddy Bear. Delivery before Mother's Day is guaranteed. Don't forget guys, it's Sunday. 1-800-829-BEAR or shop online at VermontTeddyBear.com.

[Would you like to follow me on Twitter? Because why not? Also, please send tips to tv@huffingtonpost.com -- learn more about our media monitoring project here.]