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Just in time for Presidents Day and Oscars week, the top presidential movies

AllthepresidentsThis past summer, my son and I watched "All the President's Men" on DVD.  As a 22-year-old law student, he was familiar with the Watergate scandal and the Washington Post's muckraking role in it, but the details were a revelation.  This wasn't exactly ancient history to him, but history nonetheless.

My experience was quite different: I was watching the 1976 movie for probably the fourth or fifth time, and could practically recite the dialogue.   The Watergate drama was unfolding when I was in high school. My family watched the congressional hearings together in our Lackawanna living room, and the broadcast from Washington was as riveting to us as any reality show, with members of Congress such as Barbara Jordan, Sam Ervin and Peter Rodino quickly becoming household names.  It was no coincidence that soon afterward, I joined Nardin Academy's student newspaper and eventually headed off to Georgetown University.  Like many a journalist who came of age in the '70s and '80s, I was inspired by the Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.  (The movie still above shows Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman as the pair that would become known collectively as Woodstein.)

So, I was happy to see -- as this year's Presidents Day weekend approached -- the Washington Post's Style section make "All the President's Men"  its first choice in a compilation of 16 of the best presidential movies. Among the others are such great choices as "Wag the Dog," "Dave," "Primary Colors" and "The Ides of March."  

With the Academy Awards approaching next Sunday, and Presidents Day celebrated Monday, the Post's slideshow of top presidential movies couldn't be more timely.   Watch one of them with your kids -- or a friend's kids.  Who knows? You may even inspire someone's career. 

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'What's next on the story about Grisanti and the Seneca Niagara Casino?' Here's the answer

During my live chat on Thursday, a reader asked me what The News was working on related to the strange tale of State Sen. Mark Grisanti and the brawl at the Seneca Niagara Casino last weekend.  I gave a vague answer, but now I can talk more concretely about it.

First off, see today's News editorial, titled "Do the public a favor," in which the Editorial Board calls for the casino to make its security video public.  The editorial says, in part: "The question involves the character of the individuals involved, particularly a man elected to a high state office. The public has a compelling interest in understanding what happened in the casino a week ago, and casino officials could help that understanding. All they have to do is release the security video."

Also, on the editorial page, coming on Monday, is a strongly worded "Another Voice" piece by Seneca President Robert Odawi Porter, deploring the disparagement and racism toward his people that has resulted from the incident.   Media portrayals of "Indians on the Warpath" and "Indian Whomp-'em" are, he says, "salacious stereotypes."

As for our news coverage, at least two stories are in the works for tomorrow's paper.  One, an analysis by political columnist Robert J. McCarthy, assesses the damage to Grisanti's reputation and his political prospects.  The first-term Republican runs for re-election this November, and Democrats hope to take full advantage of what happened.  In the  second, reporters Dan Herbeck and Maki Becker do their best to reconstruct the events of last Friday night on a minute-by-minute (if not blow-by-blow) basis.   Many questions remain unanswered, but these stories should help.

 

Singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards -- in Hamilton, on NPR, and off to Europe

Kathedwards[1]Like many a Canadian pop-music artist, Kathleen Edwards has ardent fans in Buffalo, and I'll happily admit to being among them.

The 33-year-old Ottawa-born singer and songwriter is touring behind her new album, "Voyageur," and performed semi-locally last weekend in Hamilton and Toronto before heading to Dublin, the first stop on her European tour.

I caught her act last Friday at The Studio, a tiny venue in Hamilton, where Edwards not long ago lived and owned a home. (Edwards' new songs reflect her recent divorce from her longtime collaborator and bandmate Colin Cripps; these days, she's said to be hanging out with her new album's producer, Justin Vernon, front man of the Grammy-winning band Bon Iver.)

The show was intimate and emotional, featuring many of the songs from "Voyageur," with a smattering of earlier albums. "Asking for Flowers," from her 2008 album of the same name, was a highlight, as was her whimsical encore covering Big Star's "September Gurls."

Edwards' songs are sometimes tender, sometimes tough, and she has charisma as well as talent. American Songwriter website describes her hit-to-be "Change the Sheets" like this: "Her ghostly, oscillating 'wooo' hook is perfect for a valentine to 'margaritas and sleeping pills'. And with the insistent pleas to 'go ahead, run, run, run, run,' she’s stumbled upon her first great driving song as well."

You can hear five of Edwards'  new songs on this NPR "World Cafe Live" performance and interview, recorded earlier this week in Philadelphia.

And, just for fun, here's my definitely-not-ready-for-prime-time clip of "Change the Sheets" from the Hamilton show:
 

Mourning the irreplaceable Anthony Shadid, who covered the Middle East for the New York Times

TmpBCTZT9.640x360I didn't know Anthony Shadid.  But tonight, having just heard of the death in Syria of this brilliant Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, the only word for what I feel is heartsick.

Shadid died, apparently of an asthma attack, at age 43.  A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, he was one of the best foreign correspondents of his generation.  Maybe, simply, the best.

My admiration for him and his work stems from two factors.  First, we share a Lebanese heritage, one that he explored in his third book, "House of Stone," due to be published next month.

The other is that his reporting and writing always touched me deeply.  Shadid had an uncanny ability to find the universal humanity in every situation, in every country, in every language.  As Rick Gladstone wrote of his Times colleague: "Fluent in Arabic, with a gifted eye for detail and contextual writing, Mr. Shadid captured dimensions of life in the Middle East that many others failed to see."   Steve Fainaru, a former Washington Post reporter who worked extensively with Shadid in Iraq, put it eloquently:  "He wrote poetry on deadline." 

This story from the Washington Post on Shadid's life and death includes links to the work that resulted in his second Pulitzer Prize in 2010.  Both of his Pulitzer Prizes were earned while he was a reporter for the Post.

Here is New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson's statement about Shadid's death, from the Romenesko blog.

And here is the Times' obituary on Shadid.  That's a sentence I'm very sorry to write.

 (Photo from PBS.org)

Review today's live 'Ask the Editor' chat

I had a lively back-and-forth with readers today in my second live chat on Buffalonews.com.  This one was longer -- a full hour.  Even so, I didn't get to answer all of the questions or acknowledge all of the comments.  I plan to do this on a monthly basis.  It's always interesting to hear what's on people's minds, whether it's Jerry Sullivan's hip surgery, the Occupy Buffalo movement, or the future of journalism.  Click below to take a look.  And thanks to all who stopped by the chat.

 

Covering the strange story of Mark Grisanti and the Seneca Niagara Casino scuffle

12.2N005.indianwars1.C.TA--300x300The tale of State Sen. Mark Grisanti's involvement in a fight at the Seneca Niagara Casino last weekend is one of the most bizarre local news stories to come along in quite a while.

Because it involves issues (or at least accusations) of race, alcohol, profane language, injury, and the involvement of well-known public figures, the publication of the story has brought up a multitude of questions over the past several days.

Editors at The News discussed and at times disagreed over how to handle aspects of the story. One of these was whether to publish statements by Seneca businessman Ross L. John that he had heard Grisanti yelling profane and racially offensive words during the altercation.

Ultimately, I felt that it was right to do so -- given that we had a named source who is a well-known Seneca businessman and tribal leader, and that we had Grisanti's response. ("I don't recall saying any racist word. That is not in my nature.")

But we chose not to make that aspect of the story the lead paragraph or the main headline Tuesday, instead emphasizing the Niagara Falls police chief's statement that he did not see a need to file charges. Grisanti's wife, Maria, suffered a concussion in the attack.

Another question was whether, and in what way, to post on our website the cellphone video provided by the lawyer of one of the Seneca businessmen involved in the scuffle, especially since the audio portion of the video was filled with profanity. The decision was to use the video footage, which we found to be believable, but to delete the audio.

The story -- which The News has been out in front on from the beginning -- is continuing. Given the high level of interest and the unusual nature of the events, other questions are likely to arise.  Our guiding principle is to get as much information out to our readers and website viewers as possible, provided that it can be done responsibly.

I welcome reader response on all of this.

(Photo of Mark and Maria Grisanti by Robert Kirkham for the New York Post)

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Journalists and the Knicks' Jeremy Lin

Jeremy-lin[1]When the New York Knicks meet the Toronto Raptors tonight just a few kilometers up the Queen Elizabeth Way, the big buzz will be Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin.   The excitement has even helped to coin a new word: "Linsanity."

The Harvard graduate who has been playing until recently without a contract, and who is the first American-born NBA player of Taiwanese or Chinese descent, has taken Basketball Nation by storm in the past two weeks.  Capitalizing on the absence of two of his star teammates (Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire), Lin has given the Knicks a five-game winning streak and a shot at the playoffs, improving the team's record to 13-15. He even outscored Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant on his home court.

Meanwhile, his status as a rare Asian-American player in the NBA has become a challenge for journalists covering him, with one major gaffe (and requisite follow-up apology) already on the record. 
 
Tom Huang's thoughtful piece for Poynter.org takes up what happened in that instance and the broader diversity lessons for journalists.   (Huang is a Dallas Morning News assistant managing editor and diversity fellow at the Poynter Institute.)

Also well worth a read is Jay Caspian Kang's admiring takeout for Grantland, the ambitious online sports journal.   The underlying reason for all the buzz, says this Asian-American writer, is simple: "Basketball is at its best when five guys who love to play with one another outhustle and outplay a more talented opponent."  And on the essence of Lin's game: "He can get to the hoop. Lin has been most effective in the pick-and-roll, which makes up about half of his possessions. He employs a series of hesitations, crossovers, and spin moves to get into the lane. ..."

Taiwan-based Next Media Animation offers this youthful coverage, complete with animation and hoop-shooting, of their countryman, from three charming young female commentators.

Meanwhile, ever the contrarian, the Daily Beast's Buzz Bissinger offers this calm-the-hysteria commentary.  Though he admires Lin for being "quick and fearless to the hoop," he makes the unassailable point that "four games do not a career make."

Still, among NBA fans, New Yorkers, Harvard grads, Asian-Americans, and anyone who loves a good story, all eyes will be on the Air Canada Centre tonight.

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P.S. Thinking of a last-minute road trip? USA Today reported Monday that courtside seats were selling for more than $1,600.  (Similar tickets for Toronto's next home game, against the San Antonio Spurs, top out at $896.)  Now that's  Linsanity.

(AP photo)

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Lady Gaga's eating disorder and the 'hunger' epidemic among teen girls

Lady-gaga-fhm-germany-1_133329"I wanted to be a skinny little ballerina, but I was a voluptuous little Italian girl whose dad had meatballs on the table every night."   

That's how Lady Gaga answered a teen girl's question recently when she was asked about her own body image issues at the Brentwood School, the tony Los Angeles prep school.  As the Huffington Post reports, the 25-year-old pop star also spoke candidly about having been bulimic as a teenager, about her continuing struggles with maintaining a healthy weight and about the media's distortions of how she looks.

 "Every video I'm in, every magazine cover, they stretch you -- they make you perfect," she confessed. "It's not real life."  Consider the magazine cover at right, in which Gaga's image was undoubtedly digitally enhanced for the men's magazine, FHM.

But that's what girls are up against, as they inevitably compare themselves to the "not-real-life" images of celebrities.

And media distortion is, no doubt, one factor that has led to an epidemic of eating disorders among teen girls.  One in 10 girls in the U.S. suffers from an eating disorder, says the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the age of the girls is getting younger all the time. The results -- including organ damage and sometimes death -- are devastating.

On the same subject, consider this startling piece, also from the Huffington Post, on the "thinspo" (thin inspiration) movement.  A hidden network of girls writing and posting photos on Tumblr --  the microblogging platform that's all the rage with teenagers -- is growing rapidly.  And it can be dangerous.

"This codependent sisterhood of bloggers," the story says, "uses Tumblr for one sole purpose: to lose extreme and unhealthy amounts of weight."

Lady Gaga's advice is simple enough: "The dieting has got to stop. Everyone just knock it off. Because at the end of the day, it's affecting kids your age, and it's making girls sick."

In a culture that worships the skinny, that advice -- solid as it is -- will be hard to follow.

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Postscript: Lady Gaga was ignored in last night's Grammy awards, as Adele became the belle of the ball, but for my money, she's 10 times more talented and creative.  (Not to mention, as Lauri Githens noted, that Gaga was most attractively dressed as a human tennis net.)

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Seeing the Whitney Houston tragedy coming

One of my favorite writers on the subject of women -- women in politics, in media, in entertainment -- is Salon's Rebecca Traister, the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women."  Six years ago, Traister wrote a piece about Whitney Houston that now seems eerily prescient.   As the music industry prepares to pay tribute tonight at the Grammys to this extraordinarily talented pop diva who died Saturday, Traister's Salon piece is worth a read.   As likely as a tragic ending for Whitney Houston was, it didn't have to happen, and it's such a shame that it did.

Can Adele give the Grammys some soul?

Adele-1302797181As Elton John quipped at last year's Ivor Novello Awards, “Next year a large woman will win everything -- and it won’t be me.”
He was talking, of course, about Adele. 
News pop critic Jeff Miers happens to agree about the prospects of the soulful 23-year-old Brit going big at tonight's Grammys, where her "Rolling in the Deep" is up for both best record and best song, among other possibilities.
"I'll be surprised if she doesn't win at least four," Miers told me at the start of Grammys weekend.  For his pre-Grammys overview see his Gusto blog.The 54th annual awards show, which airs Sunday night (8 p.m., CBS)  is often a hokey, over-commercialized waste of three hours, something  that seems to have little to do with the music that can clench at your heart and express your deepest yearnings.
 But this year -- partly because of Adele Adkins -- that may be different.
"I think it's going to be a better Grammys than usual," Miers says.
At the very least, the show is an overview of pop music and a catch-up on acts you may have missed.  It's a snapshot of music now, as this NPR piece explains.
As for Adele, one aspect of the story is that she's back from vocal cord surgery and in good form as she demonstrated on the "60 Minutes" that will air before the Grammys Sunday.  Here's a preview, in which she sings her hit for Anderson Cooper, a cappella no less.  She also talks about her body image.  That is much in the news of late after designer Karl Lagerfeld called her fat -- and then, rather quickly, took it back. He had no choice.  For, at the moment, Adele is in charge.

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