Tag Archives: the Providence Journal

Clint, Veganism, and Maligning the Net

Great interview in the International Herald Tribune/NYT with Clint Eastwood, but once again, it’s old media slagging off new media and ending up looking the worse for it.

The interviewer, presumably, asks Clint to confirm that he’s a vegan. Turns out he’s not.  Apparently the writer did his research on Wikipedia, because that’s what he cites as a source:

Despite what you might have read on Wikipedia, Eastwood is not a vegan, and he looked slightly aghast when told exactly what a vegan is. “I never look at the Internet for just that reason,” he said.

Trouble is, the source is not Wikipedia. As anyone who uses Wikipedia knows, any information on there must be sourced. A glance at the actual Wikipedia page would reveal that the source for this ‘fact’ about Clint is, in fact, a fellow old media source, The Los Angeles Times:

People ask him to autograph rifles, but Eastwood is no Charlton Heston. A vegan, he was distressed to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton boast recently about bagging a bird.

This piece was subsequently run in the San Jose Mercury News, the Providence Journal and PressDisplay.

In fact, you won’t be able to see this on the Wikipedia page anymore because it’s been removed. That’s because some new media moves faster than old media: on December 11, the day the NYT piece was first published, a Wikipedian spotted the reference and prompted a discussion, and the removal of the reference on the grounds that a direct denial from Eastwood trumps an LAT piece. (You can see the discussion here.)

In other words, from what we can judge, the journalist involved researched Clint on Wikipedia, and was ready enough to accept that as a source on which to base his questions. When the fact in question turned out to be wrong, he allowed Clint to make a familiar sideswipe at the Internet, and not further research the origin of the myth.

But the story doesn’t stop there. The LA Times doesn’t cite a source. But there are plenty of them—apparently. Clint is quoted on dozens of sites as saying

“I try to stick to a vegan diet—heavy on fruit, vegetables, tofu, and other soy products.”

Sites like GoVeg.com have been happy to include him in their Animal-Friendly Celebrities (although, to their credit, they seem to have removed him. Compare this page with this cached version.)

What’s perhaps most intriguing is the source of this quote. I’ll admit I can’t find it. But it’s been bouncing around the net for a couple of years; this forum cites it in September 2006. I found a  piece in Glasgow’s Daily Record on May 23, 2006 that also listed Clint as vegetarian, although the web site does not seem to contain a record of it. The oldest reference I can find is in the Miami New Times, on October 13 2005, which lists Clint among a number of (supposed) vegans.

In other words, a myth arose on the net, without any straightforward way of establishing its provenance or authenticity, which was then happily picked up by websites, businesses, and organisations whose purpose it served, then found its way into a mainstream news article, before finally being authoritatively quashed.

So yes, in a way Clint and the NYT reporter are right. The Internet isn’t reliable. But Wikipedia is. Or at least, it’s no less reliable than the sources it cites. Which in this case, happened to be old media itself.

Lesson? As a journalist I guess I might too have fallen into the trap of trusting the LA Times. But it’s a timely reminder that there’s no fact too small or apparently established that it can’t stand to be fact-checked.

Just don’t blame the net if you get it wrong. It’s cheap and it’s old wave.

The veteran power of Clint Eastwood – International Herald Tribune

The Secret Behind Google’s Success: The Instant Massage

Google’s profits are indeed impressive, and if my local newspaper (no link available, I’m afraid) is right, it’s clear clear why: the company is offering a service no right-minded person could refuse:

But the introduction of new products, such as instant massaging, and upgrades to existing services, such as mapping, helped Google attract more summer traffic than anticipated, executives said during a conference call yesterday.

This seems to have emanated from an AP story, carried by The Seattle Times and Canoe Money, both of which either fixed the typo or else didn’t create the error (no way of easily telling whether the error was in the original copy, or whether my local paper ran an ageing spellchecker over the word to create the fluff.)

Instant massaging is actually not that uncommon.  3G UK’s JustYak Chat “brings the popular Internet Instant Massaging to the mobile world” (a press release that hasn’t been fixed in two and a half years. Does no one proofread these things?) In fact Google offers “about 535” entries for instant massaging, only one or two of which seem to deliver what they promise. (IWantOneOfThose.com points to the USB Massager, which I’ve long touted as a serious peripheral.)

In fact instant massaging has a pedigree. It throws up 27 matches on Factiva, including this comment from Charles Gibson on ABC Good Morning America on June 20 (sorry, no links for these as Factiva is a subscription only service. You’ll just have to take my word for it):

Are cell phones, instant massaging, and multi-tasking giving us all Attention Deficit Disorder? Yes, is the answer.

I can well imagine. Instant gratification always was the enemy of concentration. Or this from the UK’s Birmingham Post on Nov 17 2004 in its Anniversaries section, which goes some way to explain why British workers are using more paper, but still leaves us wanting to know more:

2001: A study showed that paper consumption in British offices had increased by 40 per cent with the advent of emails, faxes and instant massaging.

Then there was the report of a local man exactly a year earlier in the Providence Journal arrested for online harrassment, or “cyberstalking”. The paper explains:

Cyberstalking is a misdemeanor charge that involves harassment via e-mail or instant massaging, according to the state police.

Indeed. People leaping upon strangers in public and on the Internet, delivering instant backrubs should definitely be stopped before it gets out of hand. (Sorry.) But then again, maybe this explains AOL’s difficult times. Back in August 1999, according to CNNfn’s Moneyline, AOL was doing its bit to make online a more pleasurable place to be, as a transcript of the show has host Stuart Varney explaining:

America Online is pushing to make its popular instant massaging feature an Internet standard. And in the process, out-muscle Microsoft. For the first time, AOL will let other Internet service providers use the massaging systems: EarthLink and MindSpring. The deal lifted shares of Earthlink 4 1/2. Mindspring rallied nearly three. And AOL edged up nearly a dollar.

Only a dollar? Microsoft clearly lacked the technique and strength necessary to make backrubs an Internet standard. EarthLink and MindSpring (the names carry different connotations now, knowing they were more focusing as much on massages as messages) clearly were 100% behind this initiative.

One can’t help but wonder, though, what the transcribers and stenographers made of what they were writing when they wrote ‘massaging’ rather than ‘messaging’; take, for example, this transcript from September 1998 Congressional Testimony by John Bastian, Chief Executive Officer of Security Software Systems, a company offering “computer software solutions designed to protect children on-line”. His testimony on the dangers of life online was otherwise impeccably recorded by the Congressional stenographer, except this bit:

Thousands of explicit web sites exist with millions of pages of pornographic material. Most are easily accessed by a few clicks of a mouse. But sites are only a portion of the sexually explicit areas. E-mail, chat rooms, news-groups and Instant massaging can be virtual playground for the sexual predators and pedophiles.

Makes the Internet sound an even scarier place than it already is. Maybe we’re better off that AOL failed in its vision, and that Google may not, after all, be reaping huge profits from instant physical therapy.