Posts Tagged ‘The Los Angeles Times’

I want to preface this piece by saying I’m no fan of Mitt Romney. In fact, I think he’s the most opportunistic and malleable of the candidates for the Republican nomination for President.

He will say just about anything to get elected, which, fortunately, probably isn’t going to happen. President Obama is the only candidate on either side who is consistently logical and reasonable when he opens his mouth. Plus, Romney probably won’t get the vote of a single black person.

Like most people, I enjoy humor at the expense of some of the gaffes that politicians make, but I don’t like cheap shots. Especially cheap shots that are fashioned into a running joke.

And that’s exactly what liberal columnist Gail Collins of The New York Times is guilty of. Collins is often funny, and I look forward to her columns, but she has gone way overboard on the subject of Romney and a nearly 30-year-old incident involving his family’s Irish setter, now deceased.

Every time she writes about Romney — and I mean every time — Collins works in a line about the time that Romney “drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon.”

When I first read it, sometime last year, I was horrified. With subsequent references, however, I started wanting more details. A few months ago, I sent an e-mail to Collins, asking her if the dog was strapped bodily to the car or if he was in a crate. If he was in a crate, I asked, was he protected from the wind?

A few weeks later, Collins wrote back, saying that the dog was in a crate and protected from the wind, but she noted that the dog must have been in distress because he got diarrhea during the trip.

A week or so after my e-mail, Collins included the first and only reference I have seen her make to the dog having been in a crate. Thereafter, it was back to the dog being strapped to the roof.

Take these recent references in Collins columns, for example:

Jan. 12: There is nothing Gingrich won’t do to get Mitt. At the end of the video, there’s a clip of Romney speaking French! And now Newt’s Web site has a video that basically asks whether America will elect a president who once drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Which is, of course, an excellent question.

Jan. 5: Did I ever mention that Romney once drove to Canada with the family Irish setter strapped to the roof of the car? The dog’s name was Seamus. New Hampshire Republicans, if you can’t think of anybody to vote for on Tuesday, consider writing in the name Seamus when you go to the polls. Maybe we can start a boomlet.

Dec. 15: …the odds are very good that no one has ever called Mitt zany in his entire life. Unless it was when he drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the station wagon.

Dec. 1: And maybe we could get over his driving to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of the car if he’d just admit it was because he was too cheap to hire a dog-sitter. Maybe.

That’s at least four mentions in the last six weeks. In my opinion that’s beating a dead horse.

And the horse doesn’t deserve to be beaten. Here’s why…

Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum did some reporting on the Seamus situation recently and, in a Dec. 29, column set the record straight, doing so deftly and humorously, without taking a sledgehammer to Collins.

Daum’s column begins:

“In 1983, a 36-year-old Romney and his wife and five young boys piled into the family station wagon for a 12-hour drive from Boston to Lake Huron in Canada. As was the custom, Seamus, their Irish setter, rode in a crate strapped to the top of the car.

“Somewhere along the way, the dog began to experience, shall we say, digestive trouble that made its presence known via, uh, streaks on the back windshield. Ever the efficiency enforcer, Romney pulled into a gas station, hosed the dog off, put him back on the roof and continued the trip.

“The anecdote was first relayed in a Boston Globe article in 2007, the last time Romney ran for the Republican presidential nomination. Since then, it’s endured a long telephone game of exaggerations and misconstruels. (Gail Collins likes to write about it in her New York Times column.)

“Many versions of the story imply that the dog was not in a crate but rather tethered to the luggage rack in the manner of a silent movie damsel tied to railroad tracks. Others seem to conflate it with the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation…in which Chevy Chase inadvertently (and supposedly hilariously) drags a dog to its death after forgetting to untie it from the car after a picnic.”

Daum goes on to say that “the truth is considerably less cartoonish than the myth.” Not only was Seamus in a crate, she said, but Romney had fashioned a windscreen that protected the crate.

“Look,” Daum continued, “I’m not suggesting that Seamus’ rides on the roof were ecstatic journeys akin to Snoopy piloting his doghouse in the spirit of the Red Baron. But let’s try to think objectively. Assuming his car sickness was an isolated event, would Seamus really have been better off crammed into a station wagon with seven humans than up top in a secure, enclosed crate with a windscreen? Moreover, if Seamus had been, say, a Texas dog in the back of a pickup, as opposed to a Massachusetts dog on top of a car, would anyone have batted an eye?”

Excellent observations, especially about the Texas dog in the back of a truck. For example, if George W. Bush drove across Texas with his dog (if he still has one) in the bed of the pickup, would anyone other than a card-carrying SPCA member voice concern?

In conclusion, Daum suggests it’s time to give Romney a break on his idea of proper pet transportation.

“Sure, his judgment may have been lacking when it came to canine transportation,” she said, “but if this is the extent of his personal baggage, he’s been traveling light.”

That’s for sure.

Seamus -- RIP

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For a decade or more now, people in and out of the newspaper business have been trying to figure out what caused the bottom to drop out of the industry.

Gardner Cowles Sr. and Florence Cowles

Was it the rise of the Internet? The cashing in by all but a couple of the renowned newspaper families, such as the Binghams in Louisville, the Cowleses in Des Moines, the Chandlers in Los Angeles? The rapacious demands of Wall Street after many major newspapers were snapped up by publicly owned companies?

All of those and other factors have been fingered by various experts as the bogeyman that did in a lot of top-tier newspapers.

And now comes another viewpoint, presented by Jim O’Shea, a former top editor at both The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times. O’Shea’s new book, “The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers,” was reviewed in the SundayBusiness section of this week’s New York Times.

The reviewer, Bryan Burrough, says this:

“Mr. O’Shea argues that what’s killing newspapers isn’t the Internet and other forces, but rather the way newspaper executives responded to those forces.”

Burrough goes on to quote from O’Shea’s book: “The lack of investment, the greed, incompetence, corruption, hypocrisy and downright arrogance of people who put their interests ahead of the public’s are responsible for the state of the newspaper industry today.”

Now that’s an angry and eloquent sentence.

O’Shea backs up his assertion largely by chronicling a newspaper deal that went terribly wrong and wrecked what once had been two great chains — Tribune (Chicago Tribune and others) and Times-Mirror (Los Angeles Times and others). Suffice it to say the papers ended up in the hands of a goofy Chicago investor named Sam Zell, who knew nothing about newspapers and who hired a bunch of former radio DJs and executives to run the chain.

He’s now out, but the Tribune chain is in bankruptcy, and the 10 daily papers in the Tribune chain are a shadow of their former selves.

Papers like The Kansas City Star, the Omaha World-Herald and the St. Louis-Post Dispatch are lucky in that they have managed to avoid the clutches of thoroughly greedy people…although they, too, have fallen far and fast.

I have a different perspective on the implosion of newspapers. I think the crumbling of demand for the daily, local paper was as inevitable as the rise of “riverboat casinos.”

The winds of change started rather slowly but accelerated to the point that we in the newspaper business (I’m a 37-year veteran) were swept up and away, and there was little we could have done to prevent it.

The advent of the Internet? Yes, that definitely played a part. But what set the stage for that?

The pace of society was already gaining steam before the Internet came along. More people were relying on TV for information and entertainment, people were working longer hours, more and more women were going into the work force, people had less time to read newspapers and they were less interested in reading newspapers.

Ask any circulation supervisor at just about any paper in the country and he or she will tell you this sentence is what they hear most often when people call in to cancel their subscriptions: “I don’t have time to read it.”

We in the business couldn’t grasp the climate change because writing the paper and reading it was our business; it was what our lives revolved around. You bet we had time to read the paper; that’s where most of our story ideas came from.

Yes, some greedy people got in there and made the situation a lot worse and sullied the reputations of some formerly high-class papers. But, in retrospect, I don’t think anything could have stopped the overall implosion. Even if we had reacted quickly and embraced the Internet and started charging for online content at the outset, I think circulation, advertising and readership still would have plummeted.

I mentioned that it was the demand for the local, daily paper that hit the skids. Meanwhile, national papers like The Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today are still doing relatively well. And even though the New York Times Company (NYT) is a public company, the Sulzberger family still holds a majority interest and has the resources to run the paper as it should be run, putting lots and lots of money into the editorial side.

Many people, like me, who still need a substantive paper with a heavy emphasis on world and national news have gravitated to The Times. I take The Star, which I read first, and then I turn to The Times. I’ve got the time (retired five years ago), and my interest in newspapers has never flagged.

But the time is a luxury that most people don’t have, and the interest is… well, it’s an interest that many people just don’t have any longer.

I’m not saying that’s bad, that’s just the way it is, and that’s what’s responsible for the state of the newspaper industry today.

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