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A corrupt British newspaper empire takes another hit as James Murdoch steps down

And the scandal deepens.  Rupert Murdoch's son, James, has stepped down from his post as executive chairman of the News Corps' massive British newspaper empire, as this New York Times story reports.   The younger Murdoch claimed to know nothing of the phone-hacking practices (along with charges of payoffs to public officials) that have resulted in the biggest newspaper scandal in recent memory.  The investigation that resulted in the closing of the News of the World and the firing of various high-level editors and executives, has spread in recent weeks to a second Murdochnewspaper, the Sun.

NPR's media correspondent David Folkenflik's commentary on Twitter this morning was among the first to make sense of the move.  He wrote:  "James Murdoch relinquishes leadership in UK amid challenges to his own integrity."  Folkenflik noted that the record is full of conflicting statements about what the younger Murdoch knew about the practices -- systematically and illegally hacking into the voicemail messages of just about anybody who is anybody in Great Britain —that have come under fire.  His story on NPR yesterday provides some background helpful in understanding today's development.

The British newspaper, The Independent, among many others, has been harshly critical of James Murdoch's continuation as chief of the newsaper division.  This editorial describes what's going on in the scandal and the various police and government investigations. 

Now the question is whether the scandal will cross the Atlantic to Murdoch's U.S. media holdings, which include Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post.   This Huffington Post piece provides some insight.

For journalists who are sickened by what Murdoch's British newspapers have done and who believe passionately in journalistic integrity, this development is far from unwelcome.  Who knows? Maybe there actually are consequences for corruption, even at the highest levels.  Maybe wealth and power don't equal being above the law. 

Lady Gaga at Harvard -- and a question for her mother

Images-1On Wednesday, Lady Gaga goes to Harvard.  Not to study, mind you, but to kick off her Born This Way Foundation to combat bullying and promote kindness and tolerance among young people.  As with everything this monumentally popular star does, it's going to be a huge event, with every possible bell and whistle, including Oprah Winfrey's participation. One big question right now, says the Harvard Crimson, is: Will Lady Gaga sing or just talk?

As part of the festivities, smaller groups will gather more quietly for  panel discussions and the like.  Expected to be in attendance at one of these is Lady Gaga's mother, Cynthia Germanotta, right, who is her daughter's partner in the foundation.

 Through a friend, I hope to pose a question to her, possibly for publication later in this blog.  So far, it's this: "What was your first clue that your daughter was going to be an extraordinary person?"  

 But I'm open to suggestion. So help me out: What would you ask Lady Gaga's mother?  Send your ideas to the email address below or respond by commenting here.

(See the magazine cover below for a photo of the young Lady Gaga, aka Stephanie Germanotta.)


Twitter: @SulliView

Journalists, Syria and 'shooting the messenger'

Syria violenceWhen the international non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders recently listed the 10 most dangerous places for journalists in the world, Syria made the cut.

 Since then, it's only gotten worse.  Last week, when American-born reporter Marie Colvin died in a rocket attack in Homs (Syria's third-largest city, one that is about three times the size of Buffalo), along with French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, the focus on those dangers sharpened.  

In this interview with the Daily Beast, Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, describes the problem.

Here is NPR's interview with Jon Lee Anderson, the New Yorker reporter whose long, insightful story about Syria, "The Implosion, appeared in the Feb. 27th issue of the magazine.

And The Observer in Britain offers this thoughtful analysis of why journalists are so threatening to the  Assad regime.

This Washington Post story poses the uncomfortable choice that large media organizations are grappling with: "Send reporters into the war zones at an almost-impossible risk level or stay on the margins and try to get the story indirectly."  (The story also offers a video of Marie Colvin's mother, a Long Island resident, talking about her daughter's dedication to her hazardous craft.)

In a country that may well be on the brink of civil war, where civilians are dying daily at the hands of a brutal regime, neither choice is acceptable.

 This editorial from the New York Times gives an overview of the horrors of Syria, and some direction for a Western world that, so far, is just standing by watching.


(Photo of Syrian child, with a message clearly intended for Western media, from Australian news site,


Twitter: @SulliView

Stunning fashion moments from Oscar night

Emma-stone-2012-oscars[1]And when I say stunning, I don't necessarily mean that in a good way. A few random questions from this amateur, and then we'll let the fashion experts take it from there:

* How great was it that Meryl Streep wore a gold dress to match her golden Oscar statuette? She was classy and fabulous, as always.

* Why did Emma Stone feel the need to wrap her neck in a huge red bow? She's beautiful, smart and funny, yet came off like something really special from Santa on Christmas morning.

* What exactly was going on with the waist on Sandra Bullock's dress? The skeletal fingers that cinched her dress made me think of some sort of underwater encounter with an evil coral reef. Her presentation itself, though, complete with what sounded like fluent German, was impressive.

* I like Tina Fey and I like navy blue and I like peplums, but did those three things really go together all that well on the red carpet? Maybe there was something a little boring (or just unflattering) that somehow resulted from those three positive elements. Judith Thurman of the New Yorker described the dress as "decorous." Ouch.

On to the experts:

Here's an entertaining slideshow from Slate with commentary from Julia Turner. And the New York Times' slideshow of dresses organized by color. Here's the snarky "Fug Girls" with their best and worst list from last night.

And best of all, the wonderful Robin Givhan from the Daily Beast (a writer who managed to win a Pulitzer Prize for fashion commentary) with her take on last night's eye candy.

You can take that menu down now, Janice Okun...

JaniceokunWhat I didn't say in my column today is that I tried to talk Janice out of her decision to stop writing the  restaurant review after 38 years.  I thought I could, since I'd successfully dissuaded her from retiring as a News staffer a few years ago, holding her off for more than a year.  Once she did retire as food editor in 2009, she continued writing the retaurant review on a freelance basis.

So when she called me earlier this month on a Friday, I suggested she give it more thought over the weekend, hoping she'd change her mind.  But Monday came, she called again, and she was firm in her decision.  So, an era will pass after next Friday's Gusto, in which her last review will appear.  When we last spoke, she said she would give that honor to Sinatra's, the longtime bastion of Italian favorites on Kenmore Avenue.

One more time: Thanks, Janice. 

P.S.  I can't let the blatant misinformation in the comment below go unanswered.  In fact, The News has always paid for the meals at restaurants Janice Okun has reviewed.  And we do not solicit advertising in conjunction with the reviews.  

What's next for Lauren Belfer? A Greenwich Village chat with the 'City of Light' author

0"I'm very superstitious. ... I really appreciate that people want to know, but I just get so scared. ... I can't talk about it."

That's "City of Light" author Lauren Belfer, graciously declining to talk about the subject of her third novel, which is well under way. Belfer took a short break from her writing regimen this week to have breakfast in Manhattan -- a few blocks from her West Village apartment and not far from her neighborhood bookstore, Three Lives & Co., where she is shown here.

The Buffalo native -- who will give the commencement address in June at her alma mater, Buffalo Seminary -- chatted with me about how she finds her next writing project.

Belfer spoke about feeling as if she'd fallen off a cliff when she had finished writing "City of Light," which is set in Buffalo -- and how she never again wants to be without her next idea in mind.

Her first two novels -- "City of Light" was followed by "A Fierce Radiance" -- have not only sold briskly but have been critically admired, too. Given her impressive track record, you can't blame me for asking about Novel Number Three.

Reporter Marie Colvin died heroically, staying 'one more day' in a Syria under siege

Image"The story Marie risked her life to tell—the story that she paid with her life to tell—is one of the brutal, indiscriminate bombardment of a densely populated city, using some of the most powerful explosive weapons we know. Homs today is a city under siege where the daily civilian death toll frequently runs in the double figures."  

So writes Human Rights Watch director Peter Bouckaert, in this moving piece for the Daily Beast about his friend Marie Colvin, the American-born journalist who died Wednesday in a rocket attack in Homs, Syria, along with French photojournalist Remi Ochlik.  

Colvin, 56, a reporter for the Sunday Times of London, was a Long Island native, whose mother, Rosemary Colvin, told Newsday that her daughter was "totally, totally committed to what she did."

In 2001, when she was in Sri Lanka, Newsday reported, an exploding hand grenade destroyed her left eye. She chose to wear a black eye patch rather than a prosthetic -- "making her a striking figure in the field."

"I never met a person with more courage," journalist T.D. Allman wrote.  "She was always on the side of truth. She was always on the side of the oppressed. She never once tired. She never once faltered."

Her editors urged her to leave Syria this week, saying it had become too dangerous, but Colvin decided to stay one more day to write a story that she felt had to be told.

Tragically, it was one day too many.

(AP Photo) 

Twitter: @SulliView

Let's hear it for another (long overdue) Oscar for Meryl Streep

ImagesIt's time -- way past time, actually -- for Meryl Streep to win another Academy Award.  The greatest living actress has been nominated 17 times for Oscars but has won only two, and both of them came no less than three decades ago ("Sophie's Choice" and "Kramer vs. Kramer").

Meanwhile, she keeps putting in one brilliant performance after another, with her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in this year's "The Iron Lady"  just one more example. Think of her in movies such as "Silkwood," "Out of Africa," "Julie & Julia," "The Devil Wears Prada," "Doubt" and so many more.  Astonishingly, she hasn't won an Academy Award for a single one of them.  

So when Sunday night's Academy Awards broadcast comes along, I'll be rooting for a small chip to be made in this massive injustice.

This Huffington Post piece on Streep by a BBC reporter attests to how well she played Thatcher.

And here's a slideshow of Streep's losing Oscar bids.  

Go, Meryl!  

The Grisanti story: How much coverage is too much?

A mini-debate is raging on about The News' coverage of the story of the brawl involving State Sen. Mark Grisanti earlier this month at the Seneca Niagara Casino.

  Some readers are disgusted: "How many times does the same story have to pass from reporter to reporter? My goodness, it may be a slow day at The Buffalo News but not the rest of the world,"  Philip James Jarosz wrote in one online comment.

  Others are satisfied and remain interested: "It was clear during Margaret Sullivan's recent online chat that people wanted more in-depth information about this incident. The News is doing in-depth reporting. Many times they are accused of not doing that. Now they are accused of doing exactly that which they are supposed to do," wrote Norm Nicastro.

One thing is certain.  The coverage and commentary is being well-read. Today's story about "the woman in the purple dress" and her appearance on the casino's security video is among the five best-read articles on the website.  And Jeff Simon's column on turning the incident into a movie, in today's Life & Arts section, is causing plenty of chatter.

In yesterday afternoon's news meeting, the "Have we reached the point of overkill?" question arose among the assembled editors.   Gene Warner's story on the security video was considered for the front page, and compared with the other possibilities, it seemed like a natural.  However, aware that we had had a great deal of coverage in the past week, we made a decision not to place the story "above the fold," or put it in the lead news position.  Instead, it has a modest presence, with a small headline,  at the bottom of the page.

My sense is that many readers continue to be interested in this story, and we're continuing to pursue it energetically. 

Meanwhile, we're putting a lot of emphasis this week on other subjects: suburban school budgets, the cost of returning traffic to Main Street, and the best way of funding the county's libraries.  Grisanti is far from the only story in town.

Jodi Kantor's book on Obama marriage is 'chick nonfiction'? Take it back, Douglas Brinkley!

Barack_and_Michelle_Obama_at_the_Home_States_BallLiterary and journalistic women are up in arms today, after a New York Times book reviewer referred to Jodi Kantor's well-regarded new book on the Obamas' marrage as "chick nonfiction."

Historian Douglas Brinkley's review of "The Obamas" appeared in Sunday's New York Times Book Review and -- while generally positive -- managed with that demeaning little phrase to tick off women across the land.

The implication, of course, is that a book about the president's marriage would only appeal to women, since they love all that frothy stuff about relationships and are too busy getting their hair streaked to worry their heads about serious policy matters.

Huffington Post Women's Editor Margaret Wheeler Johnson offers this entertaining summary of the dust-up.

Meanwhile, Salon's Rebecca Traister issued this lacerating tweet: "Metrics: multiply author's femininity by subject's femininity, divide by book sales? Dunno. Math's hard."

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein added his (lower-pitched) voice to the dissent: "Jodi Kantor’s ‘The Obamas’ is among the very best books on this White House. It’s a serious, thoughtful book on the modern presidency in general. So no, I’m not going to call it 'chick nonfiction.'

With all the cleverness and outrage flying about, Twitter quickly began a new hashtag:

Here's the offending review itself. The key sentences are in the second paragraph: "Call it chick nonfiction, if you will; this book is not about politics, it’s about marriage. ..."

Now, ladies, do be careful while you're doing all this heavy reading. You don't want to muss your French manicures.

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