Sunday, December 19, 2004

New York Times front page gets a B

Blame it on the holidays, say I've gone soft, but I'll give the Times a B for today's front page. They could have had a solid A were it not for flaws in Andrea Elliott's "A Bronx Curbside Whisper: 'Hey, Need a Tuneup?'"

24 e-mails ask what the problem is -- with "street mechanics" seeking out work. Many mention terms like "shade tree mechanics" and note that in their community there's no problem with those. Buried near the end of Elliott's story, she notes:

Street mechanics violate a number of city codes seemingly written with them in mind: on the street it is illegal to repair vehicles, remove vehicle parts or discard oil. Each violation can carry a fine of $100.

That's paragraph thirty. [Remember, always check my math!] Depending upon where you live, you're either familiar with those kind of codes or not. In running Elliott's story on the front page as is, someone either didn't notice that or assumed everyone lived in a locale with similar rules.

Russel in Kentucky: "Now wait just one minute, are you telling me if I visit NYC and have a flat, I can't change it? Or is this just something that applies if I have to pop the hood?"

When regional stories make the front page, it would be a good idea for an editor to read them as though they were not familiar with the region.

I also think that had such a step been taken, the article would have improved it's focus. This is a story about people (which Elliott does a great job of fleshing out) who are in conflict with city codes as they attempt to make a living. By burying that conflict in paragraph thirty, readers unfamiliar with similar codes may have bailed on the story before they realize why people are being ticketed.

Dominick: "Just goes to show how corrupt New York is. They probably fine you for wearing the wrong color shirt too!"

Keesha wondered why Elliott didn't walk people through the codes: "It's as though she's reporting about these people talking about the great food and drinks they just had and then inside the paper we finally get that all these people just left the same party."

Steven Lee Myers tracks Yukos, the court verdict and Russia in "Using Power, Losing Favor: Putin's Efforts at Home Falter on World Stage." The search function is not currently working on the Times web page so you'll have to search the link out yourself.

Krista e-mailed to say: "Hottie! Who knew? Mikhail behind bars is hottie enough to make me start fantasizing my own Lifetime movie about women who fall for prisoners!"

Krista's speaking of Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky who founded Yukos and has been imprisoned.

Yukos is widely seen by analysts as the victim of a Kremlin campaign to crush its politically ambitious owner, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and seize control of strategic sectors of the economy sold off in the chaotic privatizations of the 1990s.
Khodorkovsky is now on trial for fraud and tax evasion and faces 10 years in jail if convicted.

That's from a breaking story on the Times' web page filed by Reuters: "Unknown Firm Wins Bid for Russian Oil Giant" ( The business section of the paper has done a good job covering the Yukos story from a variety of angles (including retaliation for political ambitions). And that link is provided for Krista who said she wanted to know more about Yukos. (Click on it, Krista, because it's much better than the e-mail I sent you early this morning where I attempted to do an overview of Yukos.)

Krista wrote back to quote her but that she was sure everyone would find her "unserious." Hey, I don't care what peaks someone's interest if it gets them focused on anything beyond their own immediate circle of life.

The search function is now working and the link for the front page story by Myers is Maybe someone will click just out of curiosity over what Krista sees as "hot." Krista it's a smaller version of the print photo, but it is a color photograph.

I am serious about Krista's way into the story being a valid one. For me, the Yukos story was of interest because of TV6 and a pattern that seemed to be emerging. If Krista's response to Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky raises her interest in the story and gets her to follow it, more power to it. If, at work Monday, she's talking about how a "hottie" is unfairly imprisoned in Russia and explaining what goes on in Yukos, hey, it's one less office conversation about what happened on My Big Fat Jerk of a Boss is Trading Places With Me on Love Nest Island.

Kara e-mails: "There are many things I enjoy about this site but the main one is that I read the Times and am apparently the only one who does in my city. I want to talk about a story I just read but have to smile and nod along to a 20 minutes recap of Desperate Housewives before I can grab two minutes of the conversation to talk about something that really happened here in the real world."

I'm guessing if someone like Krista went over to Kara Monday and started talking about Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, Kara would see it as a gift. So whatever raises your interest in a story, use it.

Tim Golden does a wonderful job highlighting the lust to go after Captain James J. Yee (for "spying" -- he was cleared of that) in "How Dubious Evidence Spurred Relentless Guantanamo Spy Hunt." (

If there's an area that could be improved on in the article, it's regarding Maj. Gen. Geoofrey D. Miller who's reaction to an allegation: his "ears turned red with anger."

Who is Miller?

It would appear that the Pentagon still doesn't want to admit the seriousness of the problem, having now assigned Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller to run Abu Ghraib despite the fact that it was Miller who last summer officially reported on conditions in Abu Ghraib and seems to have enabled, if not authorized, the torture that ensued in the autumn.
According to Taguba's report, Miller "stated that detention operations must act as an enabler for interrogation" and "it is essential that the guard force be actively engaged in setting the conditions for successful exploitation of the internees."

That's from Robert Scheer's "Thread of Abuse Runs to the Oval Office" (

I don't feel that Golden's remarks give enough perspective on Miller. Remarks like:

*"General Miller, who assumed command on Nov. 4, 2002, place a premium on clarifying the responsibilities of those serving beneath him."
*"But according to many officers, General Miller ran a tighter operation. Morale improved . . ."

have little to do with Miller's reaction to allegations about Yee. Or, in fact, to his reported actions in other stories.

We'll close on this story with the remarks of Yee's lawyer, Eugene R. Fidell:

What happened to Chaplain Yee was a grave miscarriage of justice. The career and personal life of a loyal American officer has been turned inside out, and he's not the only victim. This case has proven to be a self-inflicted wound for the military justice system.

Ben found Denise Grady's "After Baby's Grim Diagnosis, Parents Try Drastic Treatment" "almost too painful to read." Baby Hannah is discovered to have "Niemann-Pick disease type A." It's a strong story and as Ben points out, "I only had to read it, her parents have had to live through it." To read it go to

Barry Meiser, Gina Kolata and Andrew Pollack all contribute to Meier's "Medicine Fueled by Marketing Instensified Trouble for Pain Pills" (

In some ways, the story of the COX-2 drugs, a class that includes another troubled Pfizer medication, Bextra, is part of an age-old search for safer pain treatments. But it is perhaps the clearest instance yet of how the confluence of medicine and marketing can turn hope into hype - and how difficult it is for the Food and Drug Administration to monitor the safety of drugs after they have been approved for the market. Celebrex and Vioxx, after fast-track approval from the F.D.A., hit the nation's pharmacies as revolutionary drugs that could not only treat arthritis patients' pain, but potentially save their lives.
But having spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop their drugs, the makers of Celebrex and Vioxx, cheered on by Wall Street, had every motivation to expand their markets beyond the older people most at risk of ulcers to encourage the drugs' use by millions more people of all ages. That was so even as, in the case of Vioxx, at least, there was evidence as early as 2000 that the drugs could cause heart problems.

Those who had problems with Alex Berenson's article yesterday should be much more pleased with the focus of this story. [For comments on Berenson's article see]

Also be sure to catch Douglas Jehl & Eric Schmitt's "Pentagon Seeks to Expand Role in Intelligence" (

Bernardo e-mailed about this article wanting one section highlighted:

The details of the plan remain secret and are evolving, but indications of its scope and significance have begun to emerge in recent weeks. One part of the overall proposal is being drafted by a team led by Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, a deputy under secretary of defense.
Among the ideas cited by Defense Department officials is the idea of "fighting for intelligence," or commencing combat operations chiefly to obtain intelligence.
The proposal also calls for a major expansion of human intelligence, which is information gathered by spies rather than by technological means, both within the military services and the Defense Intelligence Agency, including more missions aimed at acquiring specific information sought by policy makers.
The proposal is the latest chapter in the fierce and long-running rivalry between the Pentagon and the C.I.A. for dominance over intelligence collection.

Bernardo writes: "The government is supposed to represent the people. All discussions on any changes should be taking place in public with input from the public. Everyone needs to read this article and they should also read Dick Russell's The Man Who Knew Too Much to get a picture of military intelligence."

On page A28, Elisbeth Bumiller has an article entitled "In Kerik, Bush Saw Values Crucial to Post-9/11 World." There have been thirty-nine e-mails on this story and a post on that story will be going up shortly.