Monday Edition: Skin Mags

Al’s Morning Meeting reader Doug Tallman, city editor at the Frederick (Md.) News-Post, sent a really interesting story (free registration) that is a touchstone topic for parents. Doug writes, “The Frederick News-Post, just published a great piece looking at how some local stores inundate kids with soft-core porn, with magazines like Maxim and Stuff alongside candy displays or at the checkout. We compared the cover of the June Stuff, with a naked Pamela Anderson on the cover, which is generally out front among other magazines, with the cover of the June Playboy, with a clothed

Sarah Koser of “Joe Millionaire” fame. In most local stores, the Playboys are under wraps behind the counter.

“Leading off the story was a look at how the videogame magazine, PlayStation Magazine (PSM), had created a “swimsuit special” that had cartoon characters that rivaled most anything a real skin magazine ever produced. The marketing director of a chain of convenience stores was even shocked at that one.

“The story includes this passage:

But Kenneth Paulson, senior vice president of the Freedom Forum, said private companies also have First Amendment rights.

“The First Amendment doesn’t say, ‘Wal-Mart shall make no law,’” Mr. Paulson said.

“Corporations have first amendment rights too, and choosing what not to carry and asserting who they are in the marketplace is their right,” he said. “One of the ironies of Wal-Mart and its corporate commitment — it’s family-friendly approach — when they don’t carry CDs that are labeled, they’re actually punishing people who disclose the contents.”

For a time our local supermarket, Publix, had a “kid-friendly” check-out lane where they would not put adult-oriented magazines. I take my kids to the grocery all the time to try to teach them how to estimate, how to compare, and how to find value. I found the “kid-friendly aisle” to be seldom used by people with kids. Maybe this is like the V-chip in TVs –  an interesting idea that people don’t use.

Few Fines for Serious EPA Violations

The Washington Post reported Friday, “About a quarter of the nation’s largest industrial plants and water treatment facilities are in serious violation of pollution standards at any one time, yet only a fraction of them face formal enforcement actions, according to an Environmental Protection Agency internal study.

“The study is the broadest effort to date to document the failure of the EPA and the states to fully enforce the Clean Water Act, enacted 30 years ago to clean up the nation’s rivers and streams. The study, completed in February by the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance, found that half the serious offenders exceeded pollution limits for toxic substances by more than 100 percent.”

Check the EPA enforcement news site once in a while for enforcement action, usually mentioned by state.

No Frills Prison, 50 Hours of Work for Cons

There is some interesting stuff pending in Congress. I don’t know if any of it has a snowball’s chance in Hades, but I pass it along.

On June 2, about 15 Congressmen introduced the No Frills Prison Act, H. R. 2296, which would forbid federal funds from paying for in-cell televisions, would forbid R-rated or worse programs from being played in prisons, and would outlaw martial arts or boxing instruction in prisons. Movies have been made, as you know, about prison boxing programs. It is an interesting piece of legislation that is now before the House Judiciary.

A different bill now pending would require inmates at federal prisons to work at least 50 hours a week while they are in the can. Senate Bill  S. 672 is sponsored by Senator John Ensign of Nevada.

Fantastic Online Resources

I attended the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference in D.C. this weekend. Among the outstanding presenters was Washington Post researcher Margot Williams and online information guru/author Gary Price. Here is a link to Gary’s presentation at IRE.

Gary’s website, is a must-have bookmark. Gary also mails a weekly e-mail alert (free) that updates you on new resources that will help reporters. Sree Sreenivasan recently wrote about Gary’s updated website in his Poynter column. Gary also has a great book out called “The Invisible Web,” which I bought and highly recommend.

Here are some of the sites I learned from Margot and Gary that I think you can use right away. is a service that enables you to automatically collect new information from your favorite pages on the Internet. You select which pages to monitor, and WatchThatPage will find which pages have changed, and collect all the new content for you. The new information is presented to you in an e-mail and/or a personal web page. is one of my new favorites that Gary mentioned. It is a free site that monitors Security and Exchange Commission filings. There are lots of “pay” sites that do this, but this one is free. The site will even send you an e-mail when the company you are tracking files something new. Fantastic.

Gary also mentioned which lists full (free) texts of SEC filings. is a cool site that Gary talked about. The site header says, “Are you sick of posting URLs in e-mails only to have it break when sent, causing the recipient to have to cut and paste it back together? Then you’ve come to the right place. By entering in a URL in the text field below, we will create a tiny URL that will not break in e-mail postings and never expires.”


Margot reminds journalists not to just rely on Google as a broad search engine, but to also try as a news search engine.

Margot gave me a cool new way to search the ownership of any website in the world. Try this site called  

Margot also mentioned this wonderful European news portal (Newsnow), which searches nearly 10,000 news sites every 5 minutes. This could be a nice international companion to one of my favorite sites:


Margot also remind the IRE crowd that one of the first places you will get the names of American casualties in Iraq (yes, they are still dying) is this site from DefenseLink. 


The Doctor’s Bill is not Covered?

Now, you would think if you had health insurance and you went to a hospital approved by your health plan that the doctor’s fees would be covered, wouldn’t you?

Well, if your doctor is not in the plan, you will pay his fees if they are over the plan’s approved amounts. So now, you would have to not just ask if your hospital is in the plan, you would have to ask about each doctor who comes to see you.

The information comes from a story in the Sunday Richmond Times-Dispatch about something called “balance billing.” The paper says: “(the) problem… state health-insurance officials say, is the result of something referred to as ‘balance billing.’ In it, health-care providers bill patients for what is left of a bill after insurance pays. In many cases, doctors and hospitals that contract with insurers have specific provisions in those contracts that prohibit the providers from billing patients for anything over the contracted amounts.

“But when the health-insurance company has no contract with a specific doctor or other health-care provider, those rules do not apply. Patients can be held liable for the bill.

“Officials recognize it is a sticky situation because most consumers assume that when they go to a hospital participating in their health plan, all services in that hospital are covered. But that’s not always so, it turns out.”

Surely this is not just a “Virginia thing.” Ask around.

Car Dealers Working Harder Than Ever

MSNBC reports,How do you keep selling cars with the economy stuck in neutral? Keep waving bigger incentives — in the form of no-interest loans and rebates — in consumers’ faces. So far, the plan is working for U.S. car makers. And consumers are driving away with the some of the biggest bargains in years.”

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Boaters

This story comes around about every spring, but it is worth a look. ABC News reports, “It happens every summer — tragic deaths from drowning on the nation’s lakes, rivers, and oceans. But boating experts say some of these deaths may have actually been caused by an invisible hazard, carbon monoxide poisoning.”


50 Cent is All That

Months ago, I told you a new King of Rap was on the way. 50 Cent has arrived. If you are not up to speed, get there.

We are always looking for your great ideas. Send Al a few sentences and hot links.

Editor’s Note: Al’s Morning Meeting is a compendium of ideas, story excerpts, and other materials from a variety of websites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed, and a link will be provided, whenever possible.

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