Category Archives: Blog

Editor Sentenced To Five Years

Every now and then I have to remind myself that what is now referred to as China,  used to be commonly called “Communist China.”   The fact that it remains solidly Communist is pointed out by a story on a Chinese editor being sentenced to five years in prison for for criticizing the Chinese Communist Party.

The New York Times reports that Tan Zuoren, was given the sentence for writing about and against the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

Beyond that, it appears Mr. Tan was working on a piece exposing linkage between the Chinese business community and government officials that led to shoddy construction in the country’s schools.

The Times reports, “…he was assembling an independent report on the thousands of children killed when schools collapsed across Sichuan and nearby provinces during a devastating earthquake in May 2008.” -NY Times

On Haiti And Health Care

As the news continues to arrive from Haiti, I can’t stop thinking about our instinctive need to do all we can to eliminate human suffering.    The response is automatic.   In the final analysis we must depend upon one another for our security, health care and general well being.   Consequently, when visited by terrible suffering, civilized people respond without thinking about the cost.

One of the first responders from the U.S. was the search and rescue team from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.     It made me proud to be an Angelino, when I saw our guys gathering up their gear at the airport to fly out to Port-au-Prince.   They were going because people were dying and it was the right thing to do.   Other cities, counties and states responded in like-fashion as did our President, who sent troops, our Secretary of State and a hospital ship.   As a nation, we are responding as we should.  It’s the way civilized people respond to tragedy because in the final analysis, all we have is one another.

The parallels with the near non-response to assist our own people following the Katrina tragedy in New Orleans will surely be made. People will be talking about the irony of former President George W. Bush pledging his support and congratulating President Obama for his rapid response to the disaster in Haiti.   Mr. Bush, has a legacy to try and build and after-the-fact is probably better than almost no positive legacy at all.    He’s been out of office for only one year and already our 43rd President has become a historically sad public figure.  At least he’s backing the Haitian relief effort.  That’s something.  Perhaps it should be taken a step further.

During the blitz on London, with death constantly on their doorstep and their city lying in ruins, the British people took a look around and realized that health care was a right and not a privilege.  To this day, they continue to care for one another regardless of someone’s ability to pay as does the rest of the industrialized world, with one exception.  That exception of course, is the United States.

A recent study from the Harvard Medical School, points to nearly 45,000 Americans dying annually because of a lack of health insurance and their inability to get good health care.    That’s Forty-five thousand a year.  That amounts to the Haiti death toll happening every four years or so, right here in the United States.

As we continue to do all we can to help the people of Haiti, as we should, I can’t help but feel concern for our own people.  Americans who have been forced to stay at home and suffer because they don’t have health insurance and can’t afford a visit to a doctor or dentist.   People who have lost their homes to foreclosure because of the high cost of health care while we pony up billions to bail out the banking industry.

We aren’t demanding proof of health insurance from the people of Haiti before going to their aid.   The British, the Canadians and the rest of the industrialized world have recognized that health care is a right and not a privilege.   And yet our own Congress can’t seem to deal with the necessity of providing for the health care of our own people with a genuine public health option and not some smoke-and-mirrors plan designed to protect the financial interests of the insurance industry rather than providing the kind of health care that should be considered an entitlement in any truly civilized society.

We can help in Haiti, but we can’t seem to help ourselves.  Something we should perhaps be thinking about as Mr. Obama continues his mission, playing a David-like hero for what’s left of the American middle class to the Goliath of the health insurance industry and their bought and paid for water carriers in the United State Senate.


Late Add:  Emergency assistance needed here at home:   Not that things aren’t just ducky here in the U.S., but now comes word that an ice storm has hit the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation in So. Dakota.  The people there (our Native Americans) are in need of food, medicine for kids and even shoes.  Right here in the U.S.A.  Think about it people.  Here’s a link to a Huffington Post story with info on where you can send your dollars.

Roderick Misses The Point

It seems Kevin Roderick of “LAObserved” and I have a difference of opinion.  With regard to my story on reporters missing the lede on County Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s Saturday news conference in La Canada/Flintridge, Roderick blogs-

“Olsen completely misses the dozen stories by Times reporter Paul Pringle examining management of the Station Fire.”

I don’t think so.  In fact, I included references to earlier reporting done by the Times.  But that’s not what my piece is about.

Apparently Mr. Roderick didn’t bother to read my writing.   My piece is about reporters missing the lede on a Saturday news conference, not about something that was written weeks or months ago.

The post he so roundly criticizes can be read in full below.

Did You Guys Miss The Lede?

Completely missing the lead on a story (spelled “lede” in journalism) , is among the worst mistakes a reporter can make.

Sometimes it happens.

I have to wonder if it didn’t happen on Saturday following a news conference at the scene of the mudslides in the La Canada/Flintridge area near Los Angeles.   Dozens of homes were damaged by the slides, some were left uninhabitable.

All of it was caused by the Station Fire that burned through the Angeles National Forest.  The fire broke out on August 26th and wasn’t fully contained until October 16th.

Burning 160,577 acres and claiming the lives of two firefighters, it “was the largest fire in the recorded history of Angeles National Forest (est. 1892) and the 10th largest fire in California since 1933.” -US Forest Service

Yesterday, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, complained that it didn’t have to be as bad as it was.   According to the Supervisor, there was a dispute between Los Angeles County and the U.S. Forest Service over the question of how the fire should be fought.  Antonovich said that had the feds gone along with the County’s wishes, they could have prevented 160,000 acres from burning and as a consequence, he said, there would be no mudslides in the foothill area today.

I vaguely remember talk about whether the feds should have done more to contain the fire early on.  A quick search with google turned up the following from a piece in the Los Angeles Times on October 6, 2009.

“Reinforcements from Los Angeles County were scaled back early in the battle, and federal officials now say they are investigating the actions that allowed the blaze to rage out of control. The fire, which began Aug. 23 above La Canada Flintridge, became the largest in recorded county history and killed two county firefighters when their truck plunged off a mountain road.” -LA Times

A later blogged report in the LA Times on November 13, 2009, reported that commanders in charge of fighting the fire had “underestimated the threat…….and reduced the number of helicopters and crews.”

And there’s more.

The Times also reported that helicopters did not arrive in force on the critical second day of the fire, Aug. 27, until several hours after first light and after ground crews started to attack the flames along Angeles Crest Highway.

In addition, the Forest Service had issued a memorandum three weeks before the blaze ordering managers to cut firefighting costs by minimizing their use of reinforcements from local and state agencies. Today’s report says costs played no role in the Forest Service’s decisions to use fewer reinforcements from Los Angeles County on Day 2 of the Station fire.-LA Times

I’ve done a little looking around, but I have yet to find anyone doing any real reporting on the charge Supervisor Antonovich has leveled, on what can only be described as the possibility of a huge error in judgment by the US Forest service which led to the Station Fire spreading from around 577 acres to 160,577 acres.

It could have been stopped at just 577 acres, but the Forest Service elected to let it go?

Did you guys miss the lede?


The top of a news story is spelled “lede” and not “lead,” to distinguish the written words in the lede from the metal (lead) the pressmen used to melt down to make typeface back in the old days.

The Unkindest Cut Of All

 Los Angeles Times

                               photo: chris eason   

On February 2nd they cut another inch from my Los Angeles Times.  I’ve been living with it this way for a few days now, but I can’t get used to it.

When I pick it up, I am left with the uncomfortable sensation that someone has sliced not one, but two or three inches from the right side of what used to feel like a legitimate “broadsheet.”   It now feels like the paper needs a prosthetic of some sort.

Somewhere out there, there has to be someone sitting on a pile of money big enough to rescue this paper.  Someone who can buy it, lock, stock and presses, and then give it back to journalism and Southern California.  We need the Times, you see.  We need someone to cover local news.  Someone with the reach to cover Southern California with solid investigative pieces that hold the bastard’s feet to the fire.   The west needs it, the country needs it.  The Los Angeles Times is a vital part of what keeps our city, state and nation functioning as a free society.   A watchdog against the vulgarians who would take it all away.

Somewhere out there, there must be someone with the money and the social conscience to make it happen.  Someone sitting on a pile of old money out in Pasadena, or a pile of new money up on Mulholland Drive.  Someone who will be satisfied with being simply wealthy, as opposed to falling victim to the business community’s popular obsession with quarterly growth projections that can’t be met without further devastation.

If you have all that money anyway, why not leave a legacy of truth, justice and the American way?   You know it’s the right thing to do.

Please do it soon, before they amputate another inch or two from the soul of Southern California.

(With more than 650,000 readers, The Times still has the 4th largest daily circulation in the country.  The Sunday circulation numbers are just a bit above 983,000.)

Comcast Pushback

The proposed NBC-Universal/Comcast mega-merger is being debated in the nation’s capitol, with more than a little pushback.

Minnesota’s freshman Senator Al  Franken, is among those doing the pushing, or trying at least.   With the amount of money involved and the influence it can buy, it appears Franken might be needing some help.

“The $30 billion transaction would significantly reshape the media landscape by giving the nation’s largest cable and broadband Internet provider control over content that makes up one out of five TV viewing hours, according to some analysts. NBC owns Universal Studios, theme parks, shows such as “The Biggest Loser” and “Heroes,” and cable channels such as USA Network, Bravo and CNBC.” – The Salt Lake Tribune

You could dismiss this as just another merger among the many that have taken place in recent years, and it is.  And that is precisely the point.  It’s exactly why it should not be dismissed with regard to consequence.

The merger tsunami has been rolling across the country for a number of years.

A posting by the Media Reform Information Center is telling-

“In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the vast majority of all news media in the U.S. At the time, Ben Bagdikian was called “alarmist” for pointing this out in his book, The Media Monopoly. In his 4th edition, published in 1992, he wrote “in the U.S., fewer than two dozen of these extraordinary creatures own and operate 90% of the mass media” — controlling almost all of America’s newspapers, magazines, TV and radio stations, books, records, movies, videos, wire services and photo agencies.”

“In 2004, Bagdikian’s revised and expanded book, The New Media Monopoly, shows that only 5 huge corporations — Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany, and Viacom (formerly CBS) — now control most of the media industry in the U.S. General Electric’s NBC is a close sixth.”

The more you look, the more interesting the question of mergers becomes.

In 2007, MSNBC reported on the possibility that the FCC was destroying data that pointed to the possible negative impact of mergers.

WASHINGTON – The Federal Communications Commission ordered its staff to destroy all copies of a draft study that suggested greater concentration of media ownership would hurt local TV news coverage, a former lawyer at the agency says.  -MSNBC

But the mergers have continued moving forward.   Consider the the holdings of just one company, Clear Channel:

According to a company press release, Clear Channel has a presence in more than 50 countries and-

  • Reaches more than 154 million people, or 75% of the 18+ U.S. population.
  • Operates over 800 radio stations reaching more than 97 million listeners every week.
  • With international partners, owns and operates more than 140 radio stations in Australia and New Zealand.
  • Premiere Radio Networks syndicates 90 radio programs and services to more than 5,000 radio stations affiliations reaching over 190 million listeners a week.
  • The Katz Media Group is the largest media representation firm in the U.S. representing more than 2,600 radio stations and 400 television stations.
  • Clear Channel Outdoor operates close to one million displays in over 50 countries across 5 continents.
  • In the United States, the company operates just under 200,000 advertising displays and has a presence in the top 50 Designated Market Areas.

Or how about good old CBS?  What are their holdings?  Take a look at this-

CBS Television
WUPA – Atlanta, GA
WJZ-TV – Baltimore, MD
WBZ-TV – Boston, MA
WSBK- Boston, MA
WBBM-TV – Chicago, IL
KTVT-TV – Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
KTXA-TV – Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
KCNC-TV – Denver, CO
WWJ-TV – Detroit, MI
WKBD – Detroit, MI
WCBS-TV – New York, NY
WFOR-TV – Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL
WBFS-TV – Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, FL
WCCO-TV – Minneapolis, MN
WGNT-TV – Norfolk, VA
WPSG-TV – Philadelphia, PA
KYW-TV – Philadelphia, PA
KDKA-TV – Pittsburgh, PA
KPCW-TV – Pittsburgh, PA
KOVR-TV – Sacramento, CA
KMAX-TV – Sacramento, CA
KUTV-TV – Salt Lake City, UT
KPIX-TV – San Francisco, CA
KBCW-TV – San Francisco, CA
KCBS-TV – Los Angeles, CA
KCAL-TV – Los Angeles, CA
KSTW-TV – Seattle, WA
KTOG-TV – Tampa, FL
KCCO-TV – Alexandria, MN
KCCW-TV – Walker, MN
Other Television
The CW (partial)
I’d get into CBS Radio and their publishing and outdoor advertising divisions, but the list is just too long for the page.   If you really want to see it, you can go to the CJR’s “Who Owns What” page.
As for NBC, here’s a list –

NBC Universal Television Stations Division (TVSD) is an operation division of NBC Universal’s owned and operated NBC stations and the following Telemundo Stations:

And those are just the “over the air” tv stations owned by NBC, a network beset by layoffs and other cost-cutting measures as these media giants continue to complain that they just can’t make enough money.   At one point NBC even forced its executives to fly coach to the Superbowl.   Can you imagine that?

Franken’s stand is admirable, but with so much media already in the hands of so few, you have to wonder what will be needed to turn the tide.  Or whether it’s even possible.  You also have to wonder if at least some of what’s ailing America isn’t related to all of this.

Is it possible that greater corporate diversity would lead to increased competition with more jobs and a greater variety and veracity of opinion from those we look to for our news and information and thus a healthier Republic?

At least Franken’s trying.  Here’s some of what he had to say to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts.

The End Of An Era At CBS? Again?

The NY Observer is reporting on “D-Day at CBS News.”   Long-time staffers and stalwarts like Larry Doyle are being let go.

But as the names of the laid-off began to circulate, it looked less like the end of days and more like the end of an era. The final vestiges of the pre–Katie Couric regime were finally leaving the network” -NY Observer

I’m sorry, but I never worked for CBS and I have no idea who Larry Doyle is.  Although I’m sure he’s a great guy and a hard worker and his loss will be a real blow to the network.

I’m not sure how many times the media can keep reporting on “the end of an era” at CBS.  The news division at what was once called the “Tiffany Network” has been dying the death of a thousand cuts ever since Walter Cronkite exited the building.   And now we are left with  the “pre-Katie Couric regime?”  Another era?  You have to wonder how long this will last and whether anybody continues to care.

Unless the bosses at the networks come up with some way for their product to be more relevant (and from what they’ve done thus far, it appears they can’t), then it’s essentially over for the television network news of old.

We go online at seven or eight in the morning and get the headlines.    More than ten hours later Couric and her colleagues come along with mostly the same stories, but with little or no new information to distinguish the tv news product from the more complete coverage we’ve been reading on the web and watching on cable or satellite all day.

Barring some radical thinking, including a willingness on the part of the networks to pump more money into their news divisions as opposed to simply finding new ways to pull it out,  we are witnessing the end of much more than just one more “era” at CBS.


Just got a call from my wife on her way to work in downtown Los Angeles.  “I wonder what’s going on at the courthouse” she said, “I haven’t seen that many satellite trucks in one place in a long, long time.”  I told her I wasn’t sure, but that it’s probably a hearing for Michael Jackson’s doctor.  Guess I’ll flip on CNN or MSNBC for an update.  Or, I could wait ten hours and get an abbreviated report from Katie Couric on CBS.

Brits Investigate Invasion Of Iraq

It isn’t getting a lot of coverage here in the states, but the Brits are in the middle of an official inquiry into the invasion of Iraq.  The Guardian reports that former International Development Secretary, Clare Short,  has accused former PM Tony Blair of lying and misleading parliament in the buildup to the war.

“Short, giving evidence to the Chilcot inquiry into the war, also said that the 2003 conflict had put the world in greater danger of international terrorism.

Declassified letters between Short and Blair released today show she believed that invading Iraq without a second UN resolution would be illegal and there was a significant risk of a humanitarian catastrophe.” -The Guardian

Nailed By YouTube?

A YouTube video of a man pulling a large black sea bass onto the sand in Newport Beach, CA, could result in criminal charges being filed.  The L.A. Times reports a man first appeared to be pulling the protected fish onto the beach in an effort to save it.  However, after reviewing the video the authorities are now thinking about filing charges as it appears a fisherman may have hooked the fish just before the unidentified man swam out into the water to pull it in with no apparent intention of conducting a rescue.

The Times reports that someone on a boat hooked the fish, but the video indicates that the man on the shore who swam out to retrieve it was the angler.  It’s a little confusing, because after the swimmer goes out to grab the fish, the boat then speeds away.   A voice from someone at the scene can be heard saying, “The guy in the water right there is the one who caught it.”  It appears entirely possible the man just caught a big fish and had no idea that he was pulling in a protected species.   The black sea bass, protected since 1982,  can grow to be 7 feet long and weigh in at more than 400 pounds.  Here’s the video.

Pop Goes The Music

It’s not about what’s good, it’s about what’s popular.  At least, I think that’s what the Grammy Awards are all about, although I’m not really sure anymore.  That’s because the relationship between what’s good and what’s popular has all but disappeared from the American music scene.

I admit here and now that I can’t stand most rap.  Hate it.   With no melody or harmony it doesn’t qualify as music.  It’s street poetry,  much of it angry shouting, accompanied by a heavy backbeat.  That’s not music.  It shouldn’t even be considered for the Grammy Awards.  It wouldn’t be, except that the American music marketing machine sold it to an unsuspecting and naive group of young consumers out looking for something they could call their own and now we’re all stuck with it, although the wave of Rap that swept over America seems to be subsiding, at least somewhat.  One can only hope.  There are too many real musicians around who can’t get their stuff played or even noticed as Rap continues it’s angry march through the annals of American pop culture.

I knew we were in trouble in the mid-80’s, when outstanding artists like Lionel Richie were getting bumped from the radio by the rappers.   Music was being replaced by hip-hop pop culture street poets because it was something new the marketing machine could easily sell as a youth-culture phenomenon via radio, the web, texting and MTV.

I decided to sit through the Grammy Awards show anyway.  “Gotta give these things a chance,” I told myself.  Thing is, you keep thinking that maybe it’s just you.   With so many people having an appreciation for a style of poetry and percussion, maybe you’re missing something.  So you’ve gotta give it a chance.  I saw and heard nothing to change my mind.  Rock n’ Roll will never die.  Rap, eventually and mercifully, will.   And so, I put all the Rap numbers in one category and the actual musical numbers in another.  Then Taylor Swift came out and attempted to sing with Stevie Nicks, and I needed a third category.  Music for teenage girls ( aka: the stuff advertisers like to buy).

Taylor Swift, is a beautiful young woman.  Stunning.   She won an armful of awards, including  Album of The Year. However, in the future, for God’s sake, don’t pair her up with someone with the talent and experience of Stevie Nicks.  It only points out how limited Swift’s range is.   Paired up with Nicks, she came across like a first round contestant on “American Idol” about to be bumped from the stage by a sneering and impatient Simon Cowell.

If teenage girls (who appear to represent her fan base) want to worship her in their “Hannah Montana” idol worshiping fashion, then so be it.  But don’t put her next to a legend like Stevie Nicks.  I felt sorry for Ms. Nicks, who was obviously holding back so as not to blow the kid off the stage.  I felt sorry for the kid when she went all pitchy attempting to sing “Rhiannon.”

This was the second time I felt sorry for Taylor Swift.   The first time was during the VMA Awards, when Kanye West jumped up on the stage to protest Swift winning the award for Best Female Video.  Now I understand what he was complaining about.   He shouldn’t have done it (and he later apologized), but now I understand.  Musically, Beyonce’ has it all over Taylor Swift.

I never thought “How High The Moon” could supply such blessed relief from an evening of  a few incredible highs and mostly “valley of death” lows.  But then, it’s not about what’s good, it’s about what’s popular.   Over the years the gap between the two has become increasingly chasmatic.


An afterthought:  Rap, may truly be a case of art imitating life since about one-third of the nation’s young people currently do not graduate from high school.   Nobody talks about it all that much anymore but the “dumbing down” of America continues to be frightening.

Need A Good Laugh?

A link to Charlie Brooker’s “Newswipe” showed up on one of the blogs the other day.  Now people are sending me email with links to his show on the BBC via YouTube.  The guy is very smart and very funny.  Especially so, if you’re in the tv news biz.   Hopefully, BBC America will eventually start carrying the show.  Until then, his exposure in America appears to be limited to YouTube.  Here’s a sample-

TV Anchor Quits Job To Help In Haiti

Julie Pearce, 29 year-old weekend anchor for KBJR-TV in Duluth, Minnesota, since 2006, is both a broadcast journalist and a nurse.  After seeing what’s happening in Haiti, she’s decided to leave the tv news biz and go back to nursing.    She’s heading for Haiti.

“After all,” she said, “There will always be part journalist that runs through these veins. However, right now I have to follow my heart into an open-ended journey where I am needed most. And that is as a nurse administering to those undergoing great suffering.” -Duluth News Tribune

What a story.

Sorry Haiti – No Health Insurance – No Healthcare

I was wondering how long it would be before our healthcare system settled into a realization that the Haitian earthquake victims have no health insurance.  It’s finally happened.  The Governor of the great State of Florida,  has called for clarification from the feds on who will be paying for the earthquake victims being delivered into his state’s hospital system.   Evacuations from Haiti to the U.S. have been stopped cold.

 “A spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services said the decision to suspend the flights was made by the military, not the federal health department. A military spokesman said that the military had ended the flights because hospitals were becoming unwilling to take patients.

“The places they were being taken, without being specific, were not willing to continue to receive those patients without a different arrangement being worked out by the government to pay for the care,” said Maj. James Lowe, the deputy chief of public affairs for the United States Transportation Command.”  -NY Times

While the feds try and sort out the question of who will finance Haitian health care, the New York Times quotes a doctor involved in the evacuation effort as saying, “People are dying in Haiti because they can’t get out.”

Wakeup call:  People are dying here in the U. S. too.

According to a study conducted by the Harvard Medical School, 45,000 Americans die each year due to a lack of health insurance.   Imagine that.   Forty five thousand a year.  In America.  Because they can’t afford health insurance.   Every two to three years as many Americans die from a lack of health insurance as the number of people who have died in the Haitian earthquake.   And the Congress can’t agree on a plan for healthcare reform.

We need to resume the evacuations and do all we can for Haiti, because it’s the right thing to do.  While we’re at it we might try and take care of ourselves as well.


Add – The White House announced on Sunday the 31st, that the military would resume the medical evacuation flights.