Tag Archives: Margaret Sullivan


15 Feb

1. CNN has been offering up wall-to-wall coverage of the Carnival Triumph, which has limped its way back to the US after suffering a crippling engine fire on Monday. They were calling it, and treating it like, a “disaster”, but was was disastrous about it? What it amounted to was 4,000+ passengers and crew being wildly inconvenienced and placed under poor conditions of sanitation and comfort. But no one died, and everyone came home last night. This wasn’t a floating boxcar of detainees – it was a cruise ship that broke down, revealing perhaps that cruise ships need fewer nightclubs and more backup systems, as WKBW reporter John Borsa pointed out on Twitter. It wasn’t a disaster – it was a mass inconvenience. 

2. Remember the “proud racist South Buffalo guy“? He made headlines some months ago for complaining about how those minorities commit crimes, cause property values to decline, and destroy neighborhoods. He’s now been arrested for robbing a West Seneca bank

3.  A West Seneca high schooler misbehaved at a hockey game and was asked to leave. He later took to Twitter and cursed out the teacher who did it. He did not threaten the teacher, he did not mock or insult the teacher – he merely vented his frustration with a Tweet that read, in relevant part, “f-ck [Teacher’s Name] #freedomofspeech”. The school found out and gave this honor student who, it is said, has no great history of behavioral problems, a five-day suspension. 

Interestingly, the student’s hashtag wasn’t frivolous. A kid doesn’t shed his constitutional rights when he enters the school building, and he especially doesn’t lose them when he uses a public platform from home, off school grounds, and outside school time. This particular student did absolutely nothing wrong. He took to a social media site and vented about a teacher with whom he had just had a negative experience. The only punishment this student should receive, if any, should come from his parents. The teacher can confront the student directly and demand an apology, I suppose, but the school has absolutely no right and no business to regulate or ban speech – even profane speech – a student uses on social media outside school time and grounds. Believe it or not, this is a case with federal, Constitutional, ramifications.

4. A big national tea party group – FreedomWorks, which was until recently led by former Congressman Dick Armey – made a video depicting former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton receiving cunnilingus from a panda. The tea party, relegated to the very deepest fringes of the right wing, has devolved from an anti-Obama movement into a group promoting some pretty base, offensive sexist stuff. I’m not surprised, either

In one segment of the film, according to a former official who saw it, Brandon is seen waking from a nap at his desk. In what appears to be a dream or a nightmare, he wanders down a hallway and spots a giant panda on its knees with its head in the lap of a seated Hillary Clinton and apparently performing oral sex on the then-secretary of state. Two female interns at FreedomWorks were recruited to play the panda and Clinton. One intern wore a Hillary Clinton mask. The other wore a giant panda suit that FreedomWorks had used at protests to denounce progressives as panderers. (See herehere, and here.) Placing the panda in the video, a former FreedomWorks staffer says, was “an inside joke.” 

Another FreedomWorks staffer who worked there at the time confirms that “Yes, this video was created.” 

Days before the FreePAC event, the video was screened for staff. “My mouth was wide open,” a former official recalls. “‘What the hell is this?'” Several FreedomWorks staffers were outraged and stunned that Brandon, the group’s second-in-command after Kibbe, had overseen the video’s production, appeared in it, and intended to show this film at the conference, which would be attended by many social-conservative activists. They raised objections to the film. 

“How was that not some form of sexual harassment?” a former FreedomWorks official asks, noting that two female interns had been requested to act out a pretend sex scene. “And there were going to be thousands of Christian conservatives at this thing. This was a terrible lack of judgment.”

Brandon, a former FreedomWorks official says, defended the film, insisting it was creative and funny. But eventually a decision was made not to show the video at FreePAC. 

Armey says he didn’t became aware of the film until months later: “I heard they had made an obscene video mocking Hillary Clinton.” He says he was told the video showed Clinton having sex with an intern. “I asked another [FreedomWorks] guy if he had seen it,” Armey recalls. “He said, ‘I heard about it. I was traveling at the time. It was shown around the office.'” Armey adds, “There was a concern that this kind of behavior could land you in court. I was shocked at the ugly and bad taste.” 

Dick Armey is the guy who called Representative Barney Frank “Barney Fag”. Dick Armey is a horrible person, and “FreedomWorks” is a horrible organization. The news that they produced a video showing Hillary Clinton engaging in some form of bestiality is unsurprising.  After all, 15 years ago these same clowns were probably referring to her as “Hitlery Klintoon” over on Free Republic. 

5. Tesla is a company that manufactures and markets a gorgeous, all-electric luxury sedan. It recently contacted the New York Times to do a story showing off, in cold weather and real-life conditions, Tesla’s new network of high-capacity chargers placed at 200-mile intervals along the Northeast Corridor. It didn’t go well

Tesla CEO Elon Musk went ballistic, calling the review a “fake” in social media. This prompted the Times’ reporter, John Broder, to refute Musk’s assertions via the Times’ Wheels blog. Let’s swing back to the point that Tesla pushed this test to the Times, and that, 

This evaluation was intended to demonstrate its practicality as a “normal use,” no-compromise car, as Tesla markets it.

A cold snap in the Northeast shouldn’t cause a state-of-the art $100,000 sedan, marketed as a regular car, to be unable to make 180 mile trip without pausing for an hour to recharge. Practically any car in America can easily make 300 miles before pausing for a 5 minute refueling stop. 

Soon, Musk took to Tesla’s corporate blog, where he challenged Broder’s assertions point by point, and uploaded what purport to be printouts of data the car recorded from Broder’s ride. Again, social media went nuts, calling out the Times for lying. Lying? 

First of all, let’s consider we have a Times reporter with no known axe to grind with Tesla or electrics in general who reported on his experiences trying to get a $100k car from Philadelphia to Boston. On the other hand, we have the CEO of a corporation and his public relations department trying to spin away the negative effects of the car’s failure to accomplish what the lowliest Honda Jazz can do. But also consider the fact that, in his blog, Musk purported to get inside Broder’s mind to ascribe motives to what he wrote. Consider, 

In Mr. Broder’s case, he simply did not accurately capture what happened and worked very hard to force our car to stop running.

Broder had once written an article bemoaning the various criticisms and chicken-and-egg problems with electrics, and Musk simply dismisses that as animus. 

As a result, we did not think to read his past articles and were unaware of his outright disdain for electric cars. We were played for a fool and as a result, let down the cause of electric vehicles. For that, I am deeply sorry.

Musk made this assertion: 

Cruise control was never set to 54 mph as claimed in the article, nor did he limp along at 45 mph. Broder in fact drove at speeds from 65 mph to 81 mph for a majority of the trip and at an average cabin temperature setting of 72 F.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that driving at speeds of 65 – 81 on national interstates is not unusual, and that setting the heat at 72 on a very cold day is perfectly normal behavior – stuff that a $100k sedan that is supposed to be a replacement car and not a superfluous frivolity for the rich should easily be able to accomplish – the statement is wholly misleading. Look at the data: 

He was driving at 0 MPH a whole lot more often than he was driving 80 MPH. Indeed, the data records exactly one momentary spike to over 80 MPH – to say that he was routinely exceeding the speed limit is simply misleading. And why bother offering up the data if you won’t bother to characterize it accurately? Broder responded at the Wheels blog, after New York Times Public Editor and former Buffalo News Editor-in-Chief Margaret Sullivan became involved. As to the speed discrepancy, Broder accurately suggests the speedometer was uncalibrated due to wheel size, 

I drove normally (at the speed limit or with prevailing traffic) when I thought it was prudent to do so. I do recall setting the cruise control to about 54 m.p.h., as I wrote. The log shows the car traveling about 60 m.p.h. for a nearly 100-mile stretch on the New Jersey Turnpike. I cannot account for the discrepancy, nor for a later stretch in Connecticut where I recall driving about 45 m.p.h., but it may be the result of the car being delivered with 19-inch wheels and all-season tires, not the specified 21-inch wheels and summer tires. That just might have affected the recorded speed, range, rate of battery depletion or any number of other parameters. Tesla’s data suggests I was doing slightly more than 50 over a stretch where the speed limit was 65. The traffic was heavy in that part of Connecticut, so cruise control was not usable, and I tried to keep the speed at 50 or below without impeding traffic.

Certainly, and as Tesla’s logs clearly show, much of my driving was at or well below the 65 m.p.h. speed limit, with only a single momentary spike above 80. Most drivers are aware that cars can speed up, even sometimes when cruise control is engaged, on downhill stretches.

Musk accused Broder of deliberately running down the battery during a stop at a Milford, CT plaza where Tesla had a supercharger located, 

When he first reached our Milford, Connecticut Supercharger, having driven the car hard and after taking an unplanned detour through downtown Manhattan to give his brother a ride, the display said “0 miles remaining.” Instead of plugging in the car, he drove in circles for over half a mile in a tiny, 100-space parking lot. When the Model S valiantly refused to die, he eventually plugged it in. On the later legs, it is clear Broder was determined not to be foiled again.

Of course, Musk is merely ascribing ill motives on Broder because he is now butthurt over the article. But here’s how Broder explains what happened, 

I drove around the Milford service plaza in the dark looking for the Supercharger, which is not prominently marked. I was not trying to drain the battery. (It was already on reserve power.) As soon as I found the Supercharger, I plugged the car in.

The stop in Manhattan was planned from the beginning and known to Tesla personnel all along. According to Google Maps, taking the Lincoln Tunnel into Manhattan (instead of crossing at the George Washington Bridge) and driving up the West Side Highway added only two miles to the overall distance from Newark, Del., to Milford, Conn.

Neither I nor the Model S ever visited “downtown Manhattan.”

As a lawyer, I’m trained to recognize BS when I see it, and when someone has a motive to exaggerate or mischaracterize evidence, and then does so, I’m skeptical of everything else they have to say about a matter. So it is with Mr. Musk, who goes beyond the data and labels Broder a liar who had it out for the Tesla from the get-go. Given a choice between believing the reporter and the company’s PR department, I’ll go with the Times. 

After all, Musk told Broder directly

Mr. Musk called me on Friday, before the article went up on the Web, to offer sympathy and regrets about the outcome of my test drive. He said that the East Coast charging stations should be 140 miles apart, not 200 miles, to take into account the traffic and temperature extremes in this part of the country.

Incidentally, CNN tried the same trip and had no problems whatsoever. Perhaps the temperatures had moderated, as evidenced by the snow-free photograph accompanying the article.

None of this is an indictment of the car, or even of the network of chargers. (As someone who puts lots of miles on two cars every year, I fail to see the allure of spending the equivalent of a Cheektowaga house to buy a car that has trouble making 200 miles before needing an hourlong break to charge up, but to each his own). But the tone of Musk’s response to a negative experience that Broder had, and the malicious way in which he mischaracterized what happened and ascribed to Broder a hostile state of mind, I echo what media guru Jeff Jarvis Tweeted late Thursday, 


The Buffalo News in Transition

18 Jul
The Buffalo News

Photo by amstefano988 on Flickr

Margaret Sullivan, the Buffalo News’ editor-in-chief, announced on Monday that she would be leaving the News this summer to become the New York Times’ “public editor” – a position formerly known as “ombudsman”. I wish her well in her new position. 

It does, however, raise some questions about the News. The Buffalo News performs a valuable public service, and it’s Buffalo’s only daily newspaper.  What does a public editor do, exactly

“The role of the public editor is to represent readers and respond to their concerns, critique Times journalism and increase transparency and understanding about how the institution operates,” the media group said in a statement.

“With the vast changes in journalism in recent years, the new public editor will seek new avenues for that mission.”

Sullivan will continue to write a print column, “but she will focus on a more active online role: as the initiator, orchestrator and moderator of an ongoing conversation about The Times’s journalism,” the statement said.

That will include a blog and Web page on NYTimes.com, along with an active social media presence.

Given that New York is a three-daily-paper town, the residents of the city get choices in terms of the type of paper, coverage, and editorial voice they want. The Times transcends that, however. It’s the closest thing we have to a national daily paper of record. The Buffalo News is shrinking. It regularly trumpets that it remains “profitable”, but in the past 10 years or so, it’s lost an entire roster of talented writers, and its online efforts are sometimes successful, sometimes bizarre, and inexplicably unintegrated with the more youthful and vibrant Buffalo.com outlet.

To this day, Sullivan misapprehends what the Buffalo News is in this new media environment. The News is poised to erect a paywall because it believes that it is in the newspaper printing business rather than the journalism and information business. It will be charging 99 cents to obtain online something that costs 75 cents to buy in paper form; that’s 99 cents for something that’s free to distribute versus 75 cents for something that involves paper, ink, trucks, and a wide distribution network. That’s fewer eyeballs looking at the content, looking at the ads accompanying that content.

I don’t get it. The paywall, and its regressive, absurd pricing structure, further cleave the paper from the community it serves. No one wins – combat decreasing physical circulation by decreasing online circulation?  That’s the job qualification for a public editor? Chats that Sullivan has hosted at the Buffalo News’ website revealed nothing along the lines of a public editor role, merely defense for the alleged impartiality of certain columnists and coverage. 

We’re reminded that the News remains profitable; that Papa Buffett remains supportive. Profitability is maintained despite a drop in circulation, because veteran writers would rather take a buy-out than stick around. The News prints lots of things for a fee on their state-of-the-art machinery, including the New York Times.

But Sullivan’s new job – why exactly doesn’t a one-paper town have an ombudsman? Isn’t the News’ duty to its readers somewhat higher, given that there is no print competition? Or is that duty alleviated because of occasional criticism or analysis from online competition like Artvoice, Buffalo Rising, or Investigative Post

After all, most people buy the News for the coupons. The coupons. Isn’t that a damning indictment? Doesn’t that discourage the talented writers who remain at the News, who have been recently placed in new, high-profile beats, or sent out to report on goings-on in suburban town halls, muscling in on the Bees’ turf? How long did Janice Okun stick around expounding on the relative pros and cons of booth dimensions? How many more times will Bob McCarthy repeat his patent bullshit about Chris Collins being scandal-free and fulfilling all the promises? How many more times will Donn Esmonde – nominally retired – write glowing profiles of the newest and best thing said or done by the Elmwood intelligentsia? 

It will be interesting to see how the Buffalo News changes after Sullivan’s departure. Change is inevitable because I don’t think the paywall is going to fix anything. I also believe that the News is in the business of journalism, not in the business of printing a paper. It should be spending money and using resources to create a 21st century newsroom and a product that is less reliant on coupons and gimmickry, and better integrates itself into the networks of people, groups, and neighborhoods that make up WNY. 

The internet shook the newspaper business to its core.  Very few, if any, papers, have adapted well to that shift to the new media landscape. Sullivan kept the paper afloat under monopolistic market conditions. Buffalo.com is unable to integrate with BuffaloNews.com – banner ads promote each in the other.  What is your opinion of the Buffalo News? Do you buy it? Subscribe? What reporters do you appreciate and follow? I enjoy the work of Tim Graham, Matt Spina, Denise Jewell Gee, Andrew Galarneau, Aaron Besecker, and Steve Watson, to name a few. 

You go to the Newseum in Washington, and you get the very real sense that it’s a museum honoring the relics of pre-internet news gathering and dissemination.  As people shift from paper to computer to tablets, the Buffalo News has been playing catch-up, oftentimes frustratingly so. We criticize the News because it’s the only game in town. Because it’s the only game in town, it has a duty to be better; more responsive, accessible, and transparent to the community it serves. 

Email: buffalopundit[at]gmail.com

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Clarifications and Corrections From The Buffalo News

14 Aug

Last Sunday, Buffalo News Political Columnist Bob McCarthy got on his high horse and wrote this:

A local blogger named Chris Smith has been downright giddy in recent days criticizing The Buffalo News for reporting that SEIU Local 1199 is paying employee Jennifer Hibit to manage Poloncarz’s campaign for county executive. Around here, something unusual and of interest to voters makes a good story.

But not over at WNY Media Network, where Smith toils. More important to the network, apparently, is the $3,750 Poloncarz paid to WNY Media Network for website design and video editing, according to state campaign finance records. In fact, the same records show WNY Media Network has handled Poloncarz’s video campaign for years.

Some local bloggers receive money from politicians. The Politics Column does not — and that says it all.

I then responded later that day with the following:

I didn’t receive any money from Mark Poloncarz nor any other politician and I never have. Not for work performed on a campaign, not for services provided to a campaign, not for content on this website, not for anything. Not once. Not a thin red cent. Neither has Alan Bedenko, Brian Castner, Chris Charvella, Tom Dolina, Gabe Armstrong, or any of our other writers. We’re simply a group of citizen journalists who add context and analysis to the evolving story of Western New York. Nothing more, nothing less.

Several other articles were written here and a bit of a firestorm developed on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook. McCarthy’s column was lazy and the audience took the newspaper to task for publishing an unqualified personal attack.

On Friday, The Buffalo News published a clarification to McCarthy’s bullshit article about my being a “pay for praise” journalist.

An item in Sunday’s Politics Column may have mistakenly given the impression that blogger Chris Smith was paid by the county executive campaign of Democrat Mark Poloncarz. The article pointed out that the firm running the website to which Smith contributes blogs, WNY Media Network, was paid $3,750 by the Poloncarz campaign for website design and video editing, according to state campaign finance records.

While it’s well and good that The Buffalo News published a “clarification” on their never-read “Corrections” page, this is a half-assed clarification to an accusation, but not an apology for the insult.

As Alan pointed out in his column, The Buffalo News has received well in excess of $250,000 from political campaigns since 2000. There is no difference between their print outlet taking money from candidates and our company being paid for professional services. Especially when neither I nor Bob McCarthy are directly paid with the proceeds. I qualify that statement with “directly” because Bob is actually paid by his outlet for his writing services while I am not compensated in any way.

It’s not “may have been mistaken”, it’s “was mistaken” or “deliberately/willfully mistaken”.

Making an accusation that I am on the take is a direct assault on my integrity and credibility in the community and can and might be subject to legal proceedings. I did not and still do not take this allegation lightly.

The Buffalo News, at a minimum, should publish a full retraction in the same space as the accusation was published, in Bob McCarthy’s Sunday politics column. Earlier today, I sent an email requesting exactly that.

RE: Correction WNYMedia/Poloncarz
Chris Smith Sun, Aug 14, 2011 at 10:05 AM
To: msullivan@buffnews.com, rmccarthy@buffnews.com
Cc: Alan Bedenko

Ms. Sullivan,

I’d like to thank you for the clarification/correction to Bob McCarthy’s inaccurate statement regarding my alleged employment with the campaign of County Executive Candidate Mark Poloncarz which was published on 8/6/2011.

However, it has come to my attention that the correction has not been noted in the webpage of the actual column.


In the age of new media, it is important to publish your clarification/correction on the offending webpage as well as in print or on the corrections page.

Mr. McCarthy’s article is still searchable on the internet in its uncorrected format and serves to misinform readers as to my role at WNYMedia and my involvement with the Mark Poloncarz campaign.

I would appreciate the clarification being published in the Internet version of the column as soon as possible. Your organization often makes changes to an online story as it develops, I do not see why it cannot also be done for acknowledged corrections.

I thank you in advance for your expected attention to this matter.

Chris Smith

Christopher M. Smith
327 Niagara Street
Buffalo, NY 14201
Email: chris@wnymedia.net

If action is not taken within 72 hours, I will be moving on to other tactics in order to have my name cleared. It is unacceptable that the sole political writer at The Buffalo News be allowed to prosecute a personal agenda against another local journalist with impunity.

Outrages and Myopia

15 Jul

The job of a newspaper reporter is to ethically inform the public. The rise of the internet and social media has forever changed how news gets reported and consumed. Some have called the decline of the newspaper business as a shocking death of journalism. But it isn’t.

One could apply the questions of McLuhan’s Tetrad to the internet, recognizing that the world is playing by new and different rules. With the advent of radio and television, newspapers didn’t have to change much at all – but the same is not true of the internet, which offers immediacy, interactivity, and is a medium that grew and thrives on opinion.

To say that the Buffalo News’ tentative experiments with the internet have been clumsy would be a gentle understatement. I am not a consumer of sports news or opinion, but I am told that the Buffalo News’ sports blogs are widely read and well-respected. Opinion – the fact that local reporters report on and are fans of local teams – is implied in sports reporting.

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anyone that an investigative reporter is on the side of the truth. Perhaps on the side of good government. In any event, on the side of the city and her people – of the region and its people. When an investigative reporter morphs into a blogger, offering opinion, it should therefore not come as a surprise to anyone that he may highlight incidents of bad government, obstructionism, lack of transparency, bad politics, and acts or omissions that do harm to the city or region.

So it was that the Buffalo News’ investigative reporter Jim Heaney’s outstanding blog “Outrages and Insights” was shut down by editor-in-chief Margaret Sullivan. Artvoice reported:

Heaney was the only news reporter at the paper who blogged regularly and his blog was surely, along with the sports blogs, one of the online product’s prime draws. Some are saying that the reason for the popularity of “Outrages & Insights” is most likely the reason it was spiked, too: Heaney used the blog to deliver scathing opinion and analysis, often regarding the subjects of his objective reporting for the print product, and to lampoon bureaucrats and politicians. Margaret Sullivan, executive editor of the News, explains it differently: She says that the paper has recently lost a number of reporters to contract buyouts, and so she wants Heaney to focus on reporting instead of blogging in order to fill the gap left by their departure.

Margaret Sullivan doesn’t get – and doesn’t want to get – new media. This is disappointing, because it’s new media that has left her newspaper a mere shell of its former self, and is further doing damage to her business. Long ago the Buffalo News should have embraced the new media, but hasn’t.

Reporting and blogging are not mutually exclusive, especially in Heaney’s case. I’m not aware of Heaney neglecting his reporting or investigative duties in order to write his one-post-per-day on his blog. The popularity and insight his blog provided made him a bigger name in the world of local news. His opinions were scathing because he was biased – biased in favor of the people, of the truth, of the city.

That must be why Heaney’s “Outrages and Insights was named “Distinguished Online Blog” for 2009 by the New York News Publishers Association. The New York State AP named Heaney’s blog one of the best of 2009, and he also received an award for his straight business investigative reporting in the paper. Clearly, the blogging wasn’t harming the reporting, and vice-versa.

Now, I’m not a reporter, nor do I hold myself as one. I didn’t contact Heaney or Sullivan to get a self-serving quote. Maybe the News enjoys salving its sources’ egos with he-said/she-said journalism, but I don’t have the time or patience for spin. The notion that reporters should just transcribe two sides’ positions and then let the reader decide is nonsense, after all. Reporters have a duty to cut through the BS and report the truth. What’s clear here is that the best-informed political blog in town has been unceremoniously shut down due only to perceived conflict. Heaney’s blog was a must-read for local politics, just like Elizabeth Benjamin is a must-read for state politics.

The news blogs offered up by the Buffalo News have therefore been officially castrated, further barriers to new media relevancy having been erected.

I wish the Buffalo News would get it and embrace new media, because being stubborn about it isn’t going to change anything. It’s weird to see the Buffalo News, which carries an opinion/editorial page every day, prohibit its investigative reporter from doing the same on a widely-read blog – a blog that enhanced the paper’s visibility. Heaney suffered a horrible family event a few months ago that left his blog “on hiatus”. His bosses added insult to injury and made it permanent.

But it’s not just Heaney who loses his outlet, or the News which loses eyeballs on the net.

Ultimately it is we, the readers, who lose.