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Newt Gingrich's secret love affair -- with the media

UPDATE: So now we know who won -- by 12 percentage points, no less -- and all eyes turn to the Florida primary, approaching on Jan. 31. The Washington Post's Dan Balz looks ahead to Florida in this report. And an Associated Press report by Bruce Smith notes that since Ronald Reagan in 1980, every Republican who has won South Carolina has gone on to claim his party's nomination.


YESTERDAY MORNING: I'm watching today's presidential primary in South Carolina with a mixture of fascination, dismay and amusement. The smart money is on former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who, rather than being destroyed in the heavily Christian fundamentalist world of the South by his ex-wife's revelation that he wanted an "open marriage," has managed to turn it to his advantage.

How? By attacking the media, of course -- the big, bad purveyors of all evil. Here's the trick: Gingrich's relationship with the press, which looks like hate, is actually symbiotic love. In Thursday night's debate, he called the media "destructive, vicious (and) negative," but the truth is, he couldn't do without it. Conservative voters, many of whom mistrust the mainstream media, loved his bombast, and poll numbers suggest that he may end up with a solid win over Mitt Romney. We'll know soon.

As for CNN's John King, the debate moderator who kicked things off with an "open marriage" question, the results are more mixed. True, anyone who didn't know King's name now does, but he's getting plenty of criticism from politicians and media colleagues alike (most of whom would have done the very same thing had they had the chance). I thought King's question was perfectly acceptable, but came too early in the circus, er, debate proceedings. And he failed miserably to follow up effectively.

At any rate, as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told Fox News today, the King question was "a gift" for Gingrich. In Santorum's words: “I don’t know whether Newt paid him to ask that question, but that’s about the nicest thing he’s done for a Republican in a long, long time.”

If you're interested (and, come on, how can you not be?), here's some of the best reading today on the subject while you wait for the results:

Paul Farhi of the Washington Post's analysis on Gingrich's relationship with the press

Ginger Gibson's report for on how Gingrich and the media are pals on the campaign trail.

Charles Blow's New York Times column on Gingrich's Southern strategy

Wing crawl! Buffalonians judge Boston's best offerings

Chicken-wingsWho better to judge another city's wing offerings than a bunch of displaced Buffalonians?  People who grew up knowing that the only possible purpose for celery is to douse the flames of a bucket of suicidal wings have some serous expertise to offer.
In this piece from, some members of a group known as Bills Backers of Fenway set out on a pub crawl with a misson: To sample and rate Boston's best attempts to measure up to the likes of the Anchor Bar and Duff's.   
Scoring on a one to ten scale, the former Western New Yorkers give the best score (an 8) to Framingham's The Chicken Bone, with one taster snobbishly noting, "They taste like pretty generic, anywhere-in-Buffalo wings."
Meanwhile, the worst grade goes to a Back Bay watering hole called Whiskey's. ("Did they marinate them in grease and then microwave them?") The score: 0.71. Let's face it: These wings would be run out of town on a Metro Rail.

Online piracy for dummies (and smart people who are just catching up)

NYU professor Clay Shirky, maybe the best thinker on media and the Internet out there, appears in a TED video that's going viral, on the hot topic of online piracy.  Check it out below and you'll understand the argument against the current bills better than before.  Of course, the legislation may be pretty much dead, after Blackout Wednesday but the topic is not.


Springsteen's new single: hear it here

The Boss had a tough year with the loss of friend and bandmate Clarence Clemons, but he's still in top form on the first single released from his upcoming album, "Wrecking Ball," due out March 6th.    The single, called "We Take Care of Our Own," has that brand of progressive patriotism his fans have come to know and love. And it surely offers a nod to the groundswell of feeling over economic hardship and the distribution of wealth in America.  What's more, it sounds like the kind of rock anthem that will take the roofs off stadiums next fall when Springsteen is rumored to be kicking off an American tour that includes a stop at Chicago's Wrigley Field.  That's unconfirmed -- but we can hope. 

Also, listen for the lyric about a bugle that doesn't blow any more.  A reference to The Big Man?

Take a listen:


Will 'open marriage' claim from his ex hurt Gingrich? And just how powerful is Hillary?


Today could be a rough one for Newt Gingrich's presidential bid. His ex-wife, Marianne Gingrich, who has long said she could torpedo the former House speaker's ambitions with one stroke, tells ABC's "Nightline" that her then-husband told her in 1999 that he wanted an "open marriage," but that she refused. Meanwhile, he was out giving speeches extolling conservative "family values." With the crucial South Carolina primary set for Saturday, the timing could be brutal, since the revelation goes to "character" questions that many voters already harbor about Gingrich, given his checkered past.  

Editors around the country are, as a result, having their endless discussion about what to do about revelations that come just before an election or at other crucial times. This issue came up dramatically in October 2003, just before Arnold Schwarzenegger's first gubernatorial bid in California, when the Los Angeles Times published stories about his repeated harrassment and groping of women. The Times was criticized heavily for the timing, but then-Editor John Carroll -- someone I admire greatly -- made the point that the voters deserved to know as much as possible before the election.

Most of us think the answer is pretty simple: When you have the information, and it's as solid as it can be, don't sit on it. Publish it. Readers deserve nothing less.


GQ magazine unveils its fascinating look at the 50 most powerful people in Washington. You might be surprised, though you shouldn't be, at No. 1. Meanwhile, our area has close ties to two of the Top 20. Here' s the list. Hillary Clinton comes in strong at No. 5. Senator Chuck Schumer holds the No. 17 post.

We ought to do a story on the most powerful people in Buffalo. I'm guessing that three names would make the Top 10 now, but maybe not a year ago: Mark Poloncarz, John Koelmel and Satish Tripathi.

Where have you gone, J.D. Salinger?


It's been nearly two years since J.D. Salinger died (Jan. 27, 2010), and we still don't know what he was writing, if anything, for the last 40 years of his life.  Salinger biographer Kenneth Slawenski tries to read the tea leaves in this piece for   I'm hoping for a huge cache of new Salinger material to be released in 2012, but in the meantime, you'll find me happily reading "For Esme -- With Love and Squalor" one more time.

On the related topic of fiction by authors who are still alive, here's the smartest thing I've read all week: the "Riff" from the New York Times Magazine last Sunday that poses the question "Why Write Novels at All?"


The talented Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards had a nice spot on Letterman Tuesday night, featuring a song from her new album, "Voyageur."  See the video below, and be sure to catch her funny exchange with Dave at the end.  Edwards will play gigs in Hamilton and Toronto next month.  There are no immediate plans for a Buffalo show, although she does have a soft spot in her heart for our city, as she's made clear in her performances here.  Edwards even has a song called "Buffalo," with lyrics about crossing the border in a snowstorm accompanied by almost-enough Genny Cream Ale. 


News Reporter Steve Watson had an interesting reaction to the SulliView blog of Monday ("What's wrong with a good curse, now and then?") on the use of expletives and other questionable language in the newspaper.  It turns out that he's made an informal study of this topic and shared this, among other, observations in an email to me today:  "Regarding the N-word, I can’t even bring myself to write it here. (The actual word) has appeared in the paper 25 times since late 2001, never in an article in the City & Region section. Mostly Leonard Pitts columns or reviews of books that have the word in the title or the text, along with one Rod Watson column. Sometimes we have a mixed policy even within the same piece. One columnist used the word when referring to the book that had the word in the title, but used “n-word” in the rest of the column. That was in 2006. In 2011, it was used three times in a features commentary by one of our columnists."   I'm not sure what this proves, except that we do make these decisions on a case-by-case basis.  Steve would like to see a more consistent policy, and I've told him that I'll get right on that.

Way to go, Wikipedia

If you have a sudden urge today to know, say, John Lennon’s birthday or Michelle Obama’s hometown, one frequent go-to source -- Wikipedia -- will be of no help whatsoever.  The English-language version of the site is blacked out for 24 hours to protest an anti-online piracy bill that’s being considered in Congress. 

I say: Good move, Wikipedia.  It's a dramatic way to make a point that needs making.

For me (and many of my newspaper-editor colleagues), the issue is about free speech, and the message needs to be, “Don’t mess with it.”  Granted, something needs to be done to stop online piracy, but the bills now before Congress don't get the job done the right way.

By the way, the sides in the debate are being described far too simplistically.  To wit, here’s the Daily Beast’s summary: “Media companies have spent millions in support of the bills, but tech outlets say the laws will effectively censor the Internet by making companies liable for linking to pirated material.”

Not so fast.  This media company is lining up with the techies, not the movie studios and the recording industry.  And many other news organizations are doing the same.

You can read a Buffalo News editorial on the subject here.   And from Megan Garber at Atlantic Monthly, here's a fascinating peek behind the scenes at Wikipedia leading up to the blackout.

What's wrong with a good curse now and then?

A News reader poses an interesting question.  I’ll reprint it here and take a crack at answering it below.

Ms. Sullivan: I am a 7-day subscriber to your paper and I have a question/comment about a policy of The News. Over the years, I've noticed that, when quoting a person who uses a profanity or vulgarity, you will not print the actual word but instead use something like "(expletive)" or "s---". I know this policy also applies to the use of the so-called "N-word". In this day and age, I feel that the vast majority of your readers are mature adults who can handle the occasional profanity or racist comment uttered by a public figure, especially when you are simply quoting verbatim. I'm not sure if this policy is designed not to offend more sensitive readers, or children, or to be politically correct and avoid some type of accusation, but I would like to know the reason for it. Using a person's exact words might reflect negatively on that person, but not on the paper for simply reporting it. I think that accuracy in covering a story for your readers trumps whatever potential offense is felt by a small, easily offended minority.   -- Joe Suszczynski, Grand Island

Dear Mr. Suszczynski,

First of all, your observation is right.  It’s our usual practice not to allow profanity in the pages of The New or on its website, although there are exceptions.  But why do we hold to that practice?  I guess the simplest answer is that we have always considered ourselves a “family newspaper” -- with the idea that the paper may be lying around on the breakfast table or in the family room for anyone, including children, to pick up. (And we hope that they do.)

 But beyond that, I’m convinced that your “small, easily offended minority” is bigger than you think.  Many adults in this community don’t want to come across expletives as they read a news story or an opinion column.  I know this from experience. When we’ve pushed the limits of our policy, we hear from readers -- lots of them.  

Meanwhile, the definition of acceptable language has evolved.  Some News staffers who’ve worked here the longest can still remember a time when, absurdly enough, rats had to be referred to as "rodents," for fear of offending readers’ tender sensibilities.  Happily, we’ve moved past that.  Some of the milder forms of questionable language -- a word like "suck," for example -- might make its way into the paper now, and would not have done so years ago. 

When public officials use profanity, a different standard may apply.  For example, Jimmy Carter’s famous “I’ll kick his ass” response to the report about an intraparty challenge from Teddy Kennedy was widely published in newspapers -- and that was decades ago.  If Mayor Brown or County Executive Poloncarz publicly used profanity, we might well publish it verbatim.

As for the N-word, it’s simply too offensive.  If it were in a quote from an elected official, though, we’d have to think seriously about using it because the mere utterance would be news.

We argue about this kind of thing all the time, and make judgments on a case-by-case basis.  I can think of an example from just last week when a News writer tried to include a profanity in his column.  It never got past his editors.  The writer wasn’t happy. I’d love to share with you the names he called us, but we don't use those kinds of words. 

Meryl Streep's neck, Andrew Cuomo's quietude and one heck of a cocktail

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo tops Rolling Stone magazine’s list of a dozen leaders -- both in and out of government -- who are moving and shaking while Washington stands frozen in gridlock.  However, I’m not sure the headline (“The Quiet Ones”) quite describes our schmoozer-in-chief.  Though admiring overall, the story also gives Cuomo a slap on the wrist for “lack of transparency,” noting that last month he gave lawmakers “only a day to consider a 19,000-word bill revamping the state’s income tax code” and quotes former governor Eliot “Client 9” Spitzer, calling him “the dirtiest, nastiest political player out there.”


The late, great photographer Patricia Layman Bazelon’s gritty and soulful images of Buffalo’s grain elevators are on view at Allen Street’s Hart Gallery through January.  Curated by her longtime colleague and photo assistant, Lauren Tent, the exhibit reminds us of how beautifully Bazelon captured her adopted city’s faded glories.   In one, a red armchair sits abandoned in the foreground of a wintry field, with the Cargill elevator looming behind it.   While you’re there, take a peek at gallery owner Barbara Hart’s “little wood people” -- amusingly hand-painted figures, from a nun to a pothead to country-western singer.  The tiniest are $10.


And if looking at art makes you hungry, Hart is connected by a pass-through to Café 59.  That connection made me think of other favorite Buffalo places with open passageways to neighboring businesses. There’s Caffé Aroma next to Talking Leaves at Elmwood and Bidwell, Rust Belt Books next to LaTeDa on Allen, and, never to be forgotten, New World Record and Spot Coffee at Elmwood and Cleveland.   Readers, am I missing any others?


Photography fans also will want to check out the display in Sunday’s New York Times of Abe Frajndlich’s work.  Cindy Sherman of Buffalo’s Hallwalls fame is one of the subjects from his book, “Penelope’s Hungry Eyes: Photographs of Photographers.”


Nora Ephron, famously, felt bad about her neck.  But how does Meryl Streep feel about Margaret Thatcher’s neck?  In the biopic, “The Iron Lady,” Streep’s throat goes from youthfully firm to saggily middle-aged to downright billowy in old age.  Although Streep won a best-actress Golden Globe award last night for the role, and surely is the greatest actress on the planet, the film itself lacks a plot.  So, if you go, watching the prime minister’s neck evolution will give you a way to amuse yourself.


Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday has brought out the talents of two big-name writers of today’s era.  The late Christopher Hitchens’ last piece for Vanity Fair explores “Charles Dickens’ Inner Child,” while Verlyn Klinkenborg’s Sunday Observer tunes in to “The Whirling Sound of Planet Dickens.”   The birthday is coming up on Feb. 7 should you want to find a way to celebrate, whether by clanking your chains, throwing in a DVD of “Oliver!” or filing an extremely complex lawsuit.       


At Vera, a new bar and gourmet-pizza joint on Lexington Avenue near Ashland, the mixed drinks are described as “love potions, pain killers, truth serums and courage builders.”  Made from fresh, local ingredients and priced at $10 each, they rise above the ordinary, as the drink menu’s charmingly superior attitude makes clear: “Should you be in the mood for an Apple-tini or Slippery Nipple shots,” perhaps this isn’t the bar for you.”  What you can get, though, is a Black Witch -- “dark, mysterious, with big bold flavors.  Under her spell, time seems to disappear.  Rye whiskey, Apple Jack, Strega, Benedictine, black walnut bitters and a dash of absinthe.”  Makes you want to pull up a bar stool, but good luck with that.  On weekends, Vera is deservedly mobbed.


Welcome to SulliView

The big chatter in the journalism world at the moment is the painfully embarrassing column by New York Times public editor Arthur S. Brisbane. He starts out with this guffaw-inducing, but intended to be serious, question: “I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times reporters should challenge ‘facts’ that are asserted by newsmakers they write about.” Given that newspapers are, by definition, supposed to deal in facts and truth, his question makes for a fat -- no, morbidly obese -- pitch, and Salon’s Alex Pareene hits it out of the park in a piece mockingly headlined, “Times public editor asks if newspaper should correct lies.”


For months, I’ve tried to resist Tina Fey’s memoir, “Bossypants,” but when I happened on a copy of it in the library’s Crane branch, I snapped it up, took it home, and found myself, yes, laughing out loud. The “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” writer/producer is especially funny on the topic of her personal appearance, for example her first bra: I developed breasts so early and so strangely high that the bra was more to clarify what they were. That they were not a goiter or something.” So, though I intended to be reading Richard White’s uber-serious and well-regarded history, “Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America,” I couldn’t help myself. Fey’s book starting tearing up the bestseller lists last spring and it hasn’t slowed down much. I can see why; it’s chatty, gossipy and engaging.



Jay-Z’s latest song, “Glory,” released Monday, is a tribute to his and wife Beyonce’s newborn baby girl, Blue Ivy Carter. The emotional song, “featuring B.I.C.” (the babe’s initials make her sound like a rapper in training) has a backbeat that sounds like a human heart and you can hear her very own whimpers in the background at the end. Not since Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” -- about his baby girl, circa 1976 -- has a big time entertainer given us such a heartfelt tribute to new life. Is the song and its timely release really just career management and self-promotional hype by the ultimate pop-music power couple? Sometimes a family can be a great career move, but this sounds pretty darn sincere to me. Pop moguls are people, too.


In my live chat on this week, a reader asked me how come I hadn’t paid attention to the local art scene in a recent column on cultural highlights of the year. I had to plead guilty, while noting that I admired “The Long Curve,” the Albright-Knox Art Gallery’s retrospective of its 150 year history, still up for all to see until March 4th. But meanwhile, the gallery gets major props from national art writer Tyler Green in his Modern Art Notes blog: “If you’re not wowed by the strength and depth of the Albright’s collection, you’re not getting out enough.” Other than MoMA, says Green, “you could probably match the A-K’s collection up against any other modern/contemporary-focused museum in America and have a pretty good argument.”


I got out this week to 464 Gallery on Amherst Street to see the Mark Freeland show: Dozens of one-foot-square paintings with color that pops and figures that are both weird and lovable. What you think when you see them is, “How many of these can I buy right now?” You immediately picture them grouped on your dullest wall, making everything better, hipper, brighter. They were $200 apiece, so it’s easy to calculate just how much fun you can afford. Freeland, who died a few years ago, was a pop-music icon in Buffalo, and was as deeply mourned by his Elmwood Avenue audience as any beloved political leader. His aesthetic was original and authentic. See a sample of the work in News Arts Critic Colin Dabkowski's advance story in Gusto. Even better than the paintings, arguably, is a little paperback book by Freeland that’s for sale at the gallery: “Somewhat Hip.” $10 for a pocketful of cool.

Dinner afterwards at Black Rock Kitchen, just across the street. Lobster rolls, pork enchiladas, a friendly din, a tableside visit from owner Mark Goldman, and a $20 bottle of California Pinot Noir. If it weren't for the reasonable prices, you could swear you were in TriBeCa.

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