Muhammad Ali's death brings champion sportswriters back into the ring
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Muhammad Ali's death inspired print and video tributes by the media that would have been unimaginable when he was world champ, a convert to the Muslim faith and a conscientious objector to Vietnam War military service. Front pages worldwide were vivid. (Poynter) As The New Yorker's David Remnick noted in an impressive early Saturday assessment, "For years, many refused to call him by his new name. 'I pity Clay and abhor what he represents,' the columnist Jimmy Cannon wrote. Even Red Smith, the most respected of all sports columnists, compared Ali to the 'unwashed punks' who dared to march against the war." (The New Yorker)
"It was mostly a bunch of older, narrow-minded, marginally educated White men who misunderstood him, rejected him, loathed him, demeaned him and mocked the first true purveyor of the audacity of hope," David Israel, a Hollywood writer-producer who was a star sports columnist at the Chicago Tribune during the era, told me Sunday evening. "There were notable exceptions like Larry Merchant, Bob Lipsyte, George Plimpton, Dick Schaap, Mark Kram. They understood Ali's contextual and courageous creative genius. Even the great and beloved Red Smith wrote some narrow-minded, noxious and more than a little racist things about Ali. He was offended by his name change, his religion and his opposition to the war. Of course, Red was a member of the troupe that considered itself enlightened when it wrote of Joe Louis, 'He's a credit to his race, the human race.' Trust me, there was no nobility in that. It's just backhanded bigotry."
In our Internet-social media era, where youth tends to reign in the press, it was thus nice to see the brief return of the Smith-Corona Alumni Club of sportswriters. They are names little-known in the rising digital newsrooms or among the self-confident 20-somethings whose views are seemingly beloved by cable TV producers with an equally tenuous sense of history. The senior citizens analysts included Lipsyte, Dave Anderson and Jerry Izenberg.
"But he was more than the sum of his athletic gifts," wrote Lipsyte, 78, in The New York Times obituary. "An agile mind, a buoyant personality, a brash self-confidence and an evolving set of personal convictions fostered a magnetism that the ring alone could not contain." Anderson, 87, wrote, "Whenever people asked you about him lately, you always preferred to tell them what he was like in all those years when you covered 32 of his fights, what he was like when he really was Muhammad Ali." (The New York Times) From Jerry Izenberg, 85 and star columnist at The Newark Star-Ledger during the Ali years, came this: "I have been in this business more than 60 years and shared time with most of the great ones — Pele and Joe Louis, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle, with Joe Willie Namath and Vince Lombardi, and even Jim Thorpe in his declining years. But in all that time, I never knew an athlete who could stop a room, a building or even a city street dead in its tracks, the way Muhammad Ali could and did." (NJ.com)
It was a kick reading some of the remembrances and recalling moments like being in a Springfield, Massachusetts theater to watch "The Fight of the Century" between Ali and Joe Frazier on closed-circuit television (for a pricey $10 or $15). I asked Bryan Curtis, who himself penned a nice piece for The Ringer on "How Muhammad Ali Woke Up Sportswriters" about the return of a crew that relied heavily on collect calls and carbon paper. All in all, he said, "It was like looking down press row at the Garden in 1971, wasn't it? All that was missing was the fedoras."
Death of NPR journalists in Afghanistan
"David Gilkey, a photojournalist, and Zabihullah Tamanna, NPR's Afghan interpreter, were on assignment with an Afghan army unit, which came under attack." (Poynter) It's apparently the first time in NPR's history that its journalists have been killed while on assignment. As the radio bastion put it, "David was 50 and Zabihullah, who for years also worked as a photographer, was 38-years-old. David was considered one of the best photojournalists in the world — honored with a raft of awards including a George Polk in 2010, an Emmy in 2007 and dozens of distinctions from the White House News Photographers Association." (NPR)
Countdown clock, crazy Trump return
As the countdown clock returned at CNN for its "Super 5 Tuesday" coverage, the pundits there and MSNBC justifiably were in high dudgeon over Donald Trump doubling down on the "Mexican" judge in his Trump University case. The most notable may have been the Trump-chummy "Morning Joe" hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.
"Don't act shocked and stunned, you knew what you were endorsing," Scarborough said to his fellow Republican this morning. "You were suckered." Despite what would thus seem his unacknowledged self-rebuke, Scarborough said the comments are "completely racist. Here you have a guy who's from Indiana. Indiana! His family has been in the country longer than Trump's grandmother!" House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were both portrayed as total weenies. Republican leaders "are hedging," said CNN's David Gregory, as they don't know if Trump will still prove a successful force.
Over at "Fox and Friends," the focus was more on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders' ongoing fight, ISIS, the upcoming "Fox Fan Weekend" at Yankee Stadium and promoting an author's book that features 30 ways to strengthen your family's moral values. That was despite even Newt Gingrich, one of its pundit stalwarts, having proven unequivocal over the Trump comments being out of bounds. Throw in The Wall Street Journal editorial page, which called them "reprehensible." (The Wall Street Journal)
Death and mayhem in Chicago
The New York Times unleashed an army of nearly 20 people on chronicling mayhem in Chicago on Memorial Day weekend. Ultimately, there were 64 people shot, six fatally. It's an impressive piece of interactive work even if, at heart, it's a window onto problems, not so much on remedies.
Will it have any impact beyond accentuating a caricature of Chicago's murder and mayhem, which most New York Times (and other newspaper) readers have themselves long ago grown inured to? For many of them, it's likely a problem of "those people" out there in impoverished areas killing one another. Is there any way it might help inspire a sense that gun violence is not hopeless in a city notoriously lax on gun crimes? Probably not. But it was a worthy effort though perhaps unintentionally accentuating, too, the notion that the mayhem is a uniquely Chicago malady. It's not. Others are struggling with awful violence. (The New York Times)
Maclean’s, the Canadian weekly, wrote this about a Hillary Clinton rally in New Jersey. "Inside the coliseum, which serves as the athletic centre for the inner-city satellite campus of the state university of the Garden State, there was a high-school marching band performing in 38-litre hats and white boots, and cheerleaders in gold lamé hot pants." Ah, 38-litre hats? One presumes that 10-gallon got changed by an editor "used to measuring liquid in liters." (Gawker)
A Facebook decline
"Publishers who have noticed their overall reach on Facebook has dramatically declined over the past few months can at least have peace of mind that they're not alone. According to an analysis by SocialFlow, publishers on Facebook have experienced a rapid decline in overall reach during the past few months. ...In May, publishers produced around 550,000 posts that went through SocialFlow's platform — up from 470,000 in April — but overall reach from January to May was down 42 percent per post." (Ad Week)
Takedown of "takedown"
"Takedown" is quite in journalistic fashion, whether it's commentary on CNN's Jake Tapper going after Donald Trump or Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton doing likewise. The word's roots are found in the 14th Century and the notion of humbling somebody or keeping their arrogance in check. (The Wall Street Journal) Of late it's morphed into the worlds of wrestling and politics. As for the seeming surge in recent use, "it is perhaps an appropriate metaphor for our times, as political confrontations begin to look more like pro wrestling."
Bidding farewell at Facebook
"Facebook is removing the messaging capability from its mobile web application, according to a notice being served to users: 'Your conversations are moving to Messenger,' it reads. Welcome news to the millions like me who switched to the web app in order to avoid Messenger in the first place!" (TechCrunch) For now, you go about transacting your normal business. "But this summer, the warning will become an impenetrable wall, and your only option will be to download the official Messenger app."
Death by Google, Amazon
So how is it that "Google and Amazon are slowly killing the gadget as we know it?" (Business Insider) People are now keeping their PCs longer. And "the tablet-refresh cycle isn't much shorter than that, to Apple's eternal chagrin. Even iPhone sales have started to taper off, partly because people are keeping their phones longer or choosing cheaper Android phones." The catalyst seems simple: People are a whole lot more interested in web apps and services than the hardware and software running on their devices, be they PCs, tablets or smartphones.
STAT, the excellent new site on health and the life sciences, offered its take upon the boxer's passing. Was the sport to blame? Dr. John Trojanowski, a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania, met Ali several years ago and, by then, he couldn't speak. Based on his research and understanding of Ali’s symptoms, it’s “highly likely that his early-onset Parkinson’s was a result of his boxing.” For sure, there's a long way to go before we understand Parkinson's precise causes. “'But what everyone agrees on is that it ain’t good to box and have multiple concussions.'” (STAT)
Post-Panama Papers ills
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which oversaw the analysis and distribution of the Panama Papers, is moving to new offices amid the sort of money problems well known to lots of nonprofit media outlets. Among those exiting for good are three contract journalists who helped with the projects, while other vacant positions aren't being filled right now. (The New York Times)
Anderson Cooper's search for a Peabody Award
"Filling in as co-host on Live with Kelly Ripa, CNN’s Anderson Cooper found himself a reluctant participant in a workout segment involving large suspended rings. Sitting in the hoop, Cooper said 'I feel like a giant white bird.'" (Adweek) Add this to the list of stuff Walter Cronkite might have taken a pass on, which includes Cooper dry-humping Madonna at a Brooklyn concert. "Cooper is believed to be a favorite choice of Ripa to replace Michael Strahan, who left his co-host role at Live to join Good Morning America full-time." Ripa's judgment seems acute.