Sunday, May 28, 2006

Sunday Reading

  • Comic books are moving into the Diversity Dimension.

    X-RAY vision. Teleportation. Shape-shifting. Flight. The special abilities of superheroes are certainly diverse. But historically the faces behind the masks have been much less so. Out of costume the biggest difference was black hair or blond. Green skin was more common than any shade of brown. And on the rare occasion when nonwhite heroes were included, names like Black Panther and Black Lightning telegraphed the difference.

    But this year will be a banner one for diversity in the $500 million comic book business. At DC Comics, an effort is under way to introduce heroes who are not cut from the usual straight white male supercloth. A mix of new concepts, dusted-off code names and existing characters, the new heroes include Blue Beetle, a Mexican teenager powered by a mystical scarab; Batwoman, a lesbian socialite by night and a crime fighter by later in the night; and the Great Ten, a government-sponsored Chinese team.

    Over at Marvel Comics, Black Panther, king of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, will soon marry Storm, the weather-controlling mutant and X-Man. Luke Cage, a strong-as-steel black street fighter who married his white girlfriend in April, plays a key role in “New Avengers,” the company’s best-selling book.

    Comic books have featured minorities before, but the latest push is intended to be a sustained one, taking place in an alternate world that nevertheless reflects American society in general and comics readers in particular, in much the same way that the multicultural casts of television shows like ABC’s “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy” mirror their audiences. “I’m glad we’re at the point when they’re being rolled out without flourish — not ‘Minority Heroes Attack!,’ ” said Judd Winick, who has written many comics for both Marvel and DC. “It’s important just to see them as characters and not a story line about race.”


    Another effort to link old and new characters centers on Kathy Kane, the gay Batwoman who will appear in costume for the first time in a July issue of “52.” Batwoman was introduced in 1956, but she was one of several, often silly additions to the Bat family, including Ace the Bat-Hound (1955), Bat-Mite (1959) and Bat-Girl (1961). In her latest incarnation, Batwoman is a wealthy, buxom lipstick lesbian who has a history with Renee Montoya, an ex-police detective who has a starring role in “52.”

    Even so, it’s something of a surprise that there are any gay characters hanging out in Gotham City. Last year DC issued a cease-and-desist letter to a New York art gallery for displaying watercolors by Mark Chamberlain that depicted Batman and Robin in intimate positions. “That’s not what this is about,” Mr. DiDio said. “We’re basically showing a different cross section of the world.”

  • David Brooks defends the Duke Lacrosse team:

    Witch hunts go in stages. First frenzy, when everybody damns the souls of people they don’t know. Then confusion, as the first wave of contradictory facts comes in. Then deafening silence, as everybody studiously ignores the vicious slanders they uttered during the moment of maximum hysteria.

    But now that we know more about the Duke lacrosse team, simple decency requires that we return to that scandal, if only to correct the slurs that were uttered by millions of people, including me.


    Team members were caught playing drinking games, publicly urinating and hitting golf balls at buildings. The report notes that their behavior was alarming and deplorable, but adds: “Their conduct has not been different in character than the conduct of the typical Duke student who abuses alcohol. Their reported conduct has not involved fighting, sexual assault or harassment, or racist behavior.”


    The members of the lacrosse team were male, mostly white and mostly members of the suburban bourgeois middle class (39 of 54 recent graduates went on to careers in finance).


    And maybe the saddest part of the whole reaction is not the rush to judgment at the start, but the unwillingness by so many to face the truth now that the more complicated reality has emerged.

    They were just a nice bunch of white heterosexual alcoholic Republicans out for a good time. A fresh batch of George W. Bushes set loose upon the world. If that’s the case, jail them all now and save the country from the agony thirty years from now when one of them becomes president.

  • Frank Rich hopes Al Gore will run for president again.

    If “An Inconvenient Truth” isn’t actually a test drive for a presidential run, it’s the biggest tease since Colin Powell encouraged speculation about his political aspirations during his 1995 book tour. Mr. Gore’s nondenial denials about his ambitions (he has “no plans” to run) are Clintonesque. Told by John Heilemann of New York magazine that his movie sometimes feels like a campaign film, Mr. Gore gives a disingenuous answer that triggers an instant flashback to his equivocation about weightier matters during the 2000 debates: “Audiences don’t see the movie as political. Paramount did a number of focus-group screenings, and that was very clear.” You want to scream: stop this man before he listens to a focus group again!

    Even so, let’s hope Mr. Gore runs. He may not be able to pull off the Nixon-style comeback of some bloggers’ fantasies, but by pounding away on his best issues, he could at the very least play the role of an Adlai Stevenson or Wendell Willkie, patriotically goading the national debate onto higher ground. “I think the war looms over everything,” said Karl Rove this month in bemoaning his boss’s poll numbers. It looms over the Democrats, too. But the party’s leaders would rather let John Murtha take the heat on Iraq; they don’t even have the guts to endorse tougher fuel economy standards in their “new” energy policy. While a Gore candidacy could not single-handedly save the Democrats from themselves any more than his movie can vanquish “X-Men” at the multiplex, it might at least force the party powers that be to start facing some inconvenient but necessary truths.

  • For the record, Adam Nagourney says that Mr. Gore is not interested.
  • Meanwhile, President Bush compares himself to Harry Truman. Trust me, the only thing that George W. Bush and Harry Truman have in common is that they both polled at 29% approval.
  • The Toledo Blade details internal turmoil at the paper over the reporting of the “Coingate” investigation and an anonymous letter sent to the Pulitizer Prize committee.

    On April 3, Blade editors were informed that an eight-page anonymous letter attacking the newspaper’s Coingate entry was received by the Pulitzer Prize Board at Columbia University.

    Editors believed that the letter was written by someone working at the newspaper. The letter mentioned “our readers” and detailed Blade meetings, story assignments, and past disciplinary actions against staff members.

    The letter raised questions about the journalistic ethics of Fritz Wenzel, former politics writer for The Blade. Mr. Wenzel had nothing to do with the reporting and writing of the Ohio Coingate scandal, which began with the newspaper’s reports in April, 2005, into Tom Noe’s failed $50 million rare-coin investment for the state and expanded into corruption in the office of Gov. Bob Taft.

    Editors made a hard choice — to investigate their own staff to determine who wrote the letter. The probe would also address the allegations against Mr. Wenzel.


    From the beginning, editors believed a reporter — George Tanber — was a likely suspect. A reporter on and off for 30 years, including 14 years at The Blade, it was well-known that Mr. Tanber was upset about his current reporting assignment on the regional desk. He had also had conflicts with former Blade politics writer Fritz Wenzel, the subject of much of the letter received by the Pulitzer Board.

    By early last week the newspaper’s investigation had concluded that Mr. Tanber had written and sent the letter. On Tuesday, after learning that Blade editors had interviewed several staff members whose names had surfaced in the investigation, Mr Tanber asked for a meeting at The Blade.

    When he arrived, he handed editors a two-page statement that acknowledged that he had written the letter to the Pulitzer Board.

    He refused to discuss why he sent the letter, and instead released a statement.

    “I have been relentless and unyielding in seeking the truth … My zeal in journalism ethics matters is well-known and well-established in the newsroom and in the industry,” the statement read in part.

    His statement also said that “Coingate was brilliantly researched and reported.” This view was in sharp contrast to that expressed in his anonymous letter to the Pulitzer Board, in which he wrote: “In reality, Coingate has proved to be journalism at its worse.”

    On Wednesday, Mr. Tanber was suspended and on Thursday he was fired for, among other things, “displaying a pattern of conduct which was dishonest, inappropriate, or both.”

    It takes a lot of guts for a major newspaper to investigate themselves and report to the public on their internal workings (are you listening, New York Times?) Ron Royhan, Vice President-Executive Editor of The Blade, explains why the paper did it.

    Dave Murray, The Blade’s special assignments editor, was asked to research and write a report to our readers about the anonymous letter a staff member sent to the Pulitzer Prize Board.

    Our purpose is not to bash any individual, including the author of the letter, or anyone else who may have been directly or indirectly involved.

    Our purpose is to do what newspapers are supposed to do: to uncover the truth, to tell readers what we know.

    The report to readers we are publishing today is unprecedented for The Blade and most newspapers, but we feel our readers have a right to know what happened and who was behind the attempt to discredit a Pulitzer Prize entry, the newspaper, its staff, and its credibility.

    Mr. Murray supervised the six reporters who investigated and wrote the Coingate series. He was the lead editor for projects that were Pulitzer Prize finalists three of the last six years, including the Tiger Force series that won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, and the national Taylor Family Award for Fairness in Newspapers the same year.

    He was also the newsroom editor who worked directly with the law firm and corporate investigators who were hired to find out who wrote the anonymous letter.

    It is uncomfortable to write about ourselves, but we felt that we owed it to our readers and to our staff to uncover the truth. Ethically it is the right thing to do.

  • If you’re looking for a nice place to vacation this summer, check out a part of the country where I used to live — northern lower Michigan.

    Everybody smiled when sunshine hit the stern of the Phase II.

    The 33-foot cabin cruiser creeping out of the warehouse made it official: Summer was on the way to Indian River.

    Two weeks ago, you could almost nap in the middle of Main Street (make that Straits Highway), but beginning this weekend, “it’ll be Woodward Avenue here,” said Chad Chapman, 63, after catching a snooze on a park bench along the city’s winding namesake.

    Tucked between Burt and Mullett lakes, just 30 miles from the tip of the Mitten, Indian River is shaking off its drowsy spring fever and hustling to get ready for the 4-month summer season that supports the town of 2,008 the rest of the year.

    Groom the miniature golf course, wax and float the boats, stir the chocolate and keep an eye on the spawning sturgeon — it takes a lot of work to make some fun for the fudgies.

    “Everybody wants their boat in the water by Memorial Day,” said Paul Seehaver, who has owned the Indian River Marina with his wife, Debra, for seven years. “They’re looking forward to playing again.”

    There are times I miss living there…but only in summer.