March 2010 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

March 2010

Sex and Violence à la GOP

  Above the Fold

   So here is how the leaders of the Republican Party work: after spending a year telling vicious lies about the health care bill, predicting Armageddon if it was passed, and standing  on the balcony of the Capitol to egg on demonstrators–who then spit on one congressman, called another one “nigger” and shouted “faggot” at a third–after this model of restraint, these same Republican leaders reacted in horror when the Democrats accused them of inciting the violence which included death threats or physical attacks against at least ten Democratic officials, or their offices. Finally, just for good measure, they invented an anti-Republican attack, just to try to change the subject.

    The invented attack came out of the mouth of Congressman Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip from Virginia, who called an angry press conference to announce that he had been “directly threatened” by “a bullet…shot through the window of my campaign office in Richmond.”  Cantor added his “deep concerns that some [senior Democrats] are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon.”

    After that story had ricocheted around the waccosphere for a few hours, the Richmond Police reported the truth about the alleged “attack” on Cantor’s office: the police said they were investigating an “act of vandalism,” after a bullet had been fired randomly into the air–and on its way back to earth, hit a window in the building where Cantor’s office is located.  So much for the “direct threat” to a Republican leader.

    Sticking closely to the Republican talking point of the week, at her moving appearance for Senator John McCain’s campaign in Arizona, Sarah Palin derided “this ginned up controversy about us, common-sense conservatives, inciting violence, because we happen to oppose some of the things in the Obama administration…We know violence isn’t the answer.  When we take up arms, we’re talking about votes and getting involved in a contested primary like this.”

    All of which was deeply moving, coming from the woman who exhorted her “common-sense” followers: “Don’t Retreat, Instead–RELOAD!”–and whose Facebook page  still features a map with crosshairs over the districts of the 20 Democratic congressmen she has targeted for defeat.

    As usual, Stephen Colbert had the pithiest summary of all of this behavior:

   We’re not responsible for these nut jobs–it’s not like we shouted ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre.  We shouted, ‘Everyone in that theatre is a Nazi Commie death worker.’  And then simply pointed out that they were also flammable.

    Just as predictably, the loathsome Mark Halperin was one of the very few journalists who really was moved by Palin’s latest campaign appearances.  Halperin wrote these repellent sentences for Time:

   With a trio of short, spunky speeches, she leaped back to the top of the broadcast networks’ evening newscasts and a dominant position on cable TV, simply by stating her unvarnished opposition to Obamacare and deriding Democrats, Washington élites and the press… Quippy and tart, she mocked the “lamestream media,” and offered her usual punch of charm and charisma, something the public and the press have hungered for since she mostly limited her exposure to Facebook updates, Twitter tweets and calculated appearances on Fox News.

    (Note to Mark: not every one of us has been “hungering” quite the way you have.)  


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Lady and the Gramps
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor

Health Care Reform

   For her appearance with her former running mate in Arizona, Palin chose what Tina Brown called a “fetching black leather dominatrix jacket,” a wardrobe choice which at least provided a useful bridge to the next big Republican story of the week: the expenditure of  $1,946.25 in Republican National Committee funds for a really fun night out for young Republicans at Voyeur, a Hollywood club featuring lesbian dominatrixes whirling around in exotic positions on the club’s floor.

     This event was an afterparty right after an official Young Eagles dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel, attended by about 50 hip young Republican donors.  The trip to Voyeur was apparently the idea of Allison Meyers, the director of the Young Eagles program, who promptly lost her job after the expenditure was revealed.  This Republican effort in damage control provoked real outrage from senior Daily Show political correspondent John Oliver:

    I’m here to say that this is outrageous!  Have we become so politically correct that a party operative can no longer use political donations to slate his or her thirst for hot simulated sapphic bondage?  The money they used was given to them.  As a donation or a gift.  In my America, Jon, you’re allowed to use a gift however you want–even if it violates the core values of the donor and the organization you represent.

    For those of you wondering exactly what you missed by not joining the Young Eagles night out, the club’s website  promises “provocative revelry that combines eroticism and nightlife exclusivity. An alluring ambience designed with elegance and comfort while maintaining underground vitality.”

    And–since this is California, after all–“Voyeur’s signature cocktail menu includes sugar–free, all organic creations including watermelon jalapeno, blueberry mint and cucumber olive shots.”

    Thank god those young Republicans were at least able to watch their waistlines.



Winners & Sinners: Health Care Reform Edition

Winners & Sinners / Health Care Reform Edition


Overnight is a long time in politics; a week is forever.
FCP’s favorite American Political Proverb

    The Obama administration was spiritually and substantively reborn yesterday when Barack Obama use twenty-two pens to sign the most important piece of legislation into law in four decades.  (why did Stolberg and Pear say “20” in the Times??)

As always, the media did a wildly un-even job of understanding and explaining the significance of this extraordinary moment.

The Biggest Winner: David Leonhardt got right to the heart of matter, with a point I didn’t see made anywhere else: “The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago… Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan…The bill is the most sweeping piece of federal legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965. It aims to smooth out one of the roughest edges in American society — the inability of many people to afford medical care after they lose a job or get sick. And it would do so in large measure by taxing the rich.”  Of course, FCP believes it doesn’t do nearly enough to tax the rich–but at least it is a beginning.

The Biggest Sinner: Brian’s Williams’ NBC Nightly News last night devoted 53 seconds to a favorable account of the president’s bill signing–followed by 3 minutes and 7 seconds of Republican soundbites attacking the bill, 1 minute and 50 seconds about the Republican Attorneys General who have filed an almost-certainly doomed suit to overturn the law in Federal Court–and 1 minute and 55 seconds to an utterly clueless small business owner and his wife, who admitted they had no idea whatsoever how the bill would affect them–but still managed to repeat several of the most well-worn Republican sound bites.   And if you actually wanted to know anything about what was in the bill?  “Go to our website”–that was the anchor’s sole contribution to his viewers’ knowledge about that.  One of the shoddiest reports about an historic event FCP has ever seen on a network newscast.

Winner: ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer, which not only managed a much more balanced report, but also was the only network evening newscast to report the most relevant poll result of the day: Gallup found that 49 percent of Americans believed the bill was a good thing, and only 40 percent  did not.   On the other hand, the ABC broadcast reported just one Democratic congressional or party  office had been vandalized; on MSNBC,  the always much-more-thorough Rachel Maddow found five sites of vandalism across the country, as well as the ex-militia man in Alabama who claimed credit for inciting all of the violence.

Winner:  The CBS Evening News (Harry Smith was sitting in for Katie), which actually managed to describe some of the specifics in the bill–including tax savings of up to 4 percent for small businesses.

Sinner: The always-awful Kathleen Parker for repeating the bold-faced lie that the health care bill “expands public funding for abortion” and then attacking Bart Stupak for finally doing the right thing by voting for the bill.  Parker wrote that the Congressman “will forever be remembered as the guy who Stupaked health-care reform and the pro-life movement.”

Winner:  FCP’s  colleague, fellow Hillman Prize Judge Harold Meyerson, for writing the clearest column in The Washington Post about the president’s action:  With the enactment of health-care reform, the often hapless, sometimes hopeless Democrats have transformed themselves into something America has not seen in decades: a governing party. By passing the most significant social legislation since the ’60s, they have ended the policy gridlock dating to the middle of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. They have revalidated the almost quaint notion that – despite the ever greater role of money in politics – elections have consequences, too…Obama and Pelosi became a legislative force that Democrats have not seen since Lyndon Johnson. Pelosi’s contribution, no less than Obama’s, is one for the history books.” 

Then Meyerson laid out the rest of the necessary road to victory in the fall:

“To continue as a governing party beyond November, Democrats must apply the lessons of their health-reform victory to more popular causes. They need to establish a powerful consumer protection agency and rein in bank speculation – causes that some congressional Democrats decline to embrace. They must pressure those Democrats relentlessly, as they did those who wavered over health reform. They need more job legislation, beginning with California Rep. George Miller’s bill to save the teaching and public safety jobs on numerous states’ chopping blocks, and with Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s bill to establish an infrastructure bank to revive our construction sector.

Sinner: Ruth Marcus, also in The Washington Post, for boldly stating the obvious–we don’t know exactly how the one of the most complicated pieces of legislation ever enacted is going to work–and then casting doubt on its effectiveness with this factoid: “A study… by Richard Kronick, a former health-care adviser to President Bill Clinton, found ‘little evidence to suggest that extending insurance coverage to all adults would have a large effect on the number of deaths in the United States.’

Note to Marcus and Kronick:  Nothing will ever have any effect on the “total number of deaths in the United States”–except for the total number of births, and immigrants.


Winners & Sinners

Winners & Sinners

Winner: Barack Hussein Obama, for triumphing where every other president of the United States has failed. It won’t include a public option, and even the Health Insurance Rate Authority, which could have cancelled premium increases, has been kicked out of the reconciliation fixes by the Senate parliamentarian.  And yet, if the House manages to pass the health care reform bill tomorrow, after countless near-death experiences, this will be a gigantic achievement for Obama and his much-maligned White House political machine.  In years to come, the bill will require endless additions and revisions–but that only makes it exactly the same as the original laws enacting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  And despite the endless palaver of Republican officeholders, this is a huge political plus for Democrats fighting for re-election in the fall.  If nothing had been passed, the Democrats never would have been able to shake their reputation for legislative impotence.
Somewhere, Teddy Kennedy is smiling.

Update: Sinner Dan Balz has the worst kind of Washington on-the-one-hand, on-the-other hand analysis in Sunday’s Washington Post, in which he boldly argues that the Democrats will pay a big price for enacting an historic health care reform bill–or they won’t. Spoiler alert! Newt Gingrich believes the former.

History is made:  At 10:45 PM EDT on Sunday, March 21, 2010, the deed was finally done, when the 216th vote was recorded in favor of HR 3590, the Health Care Reform Bill  approved by the Senate last December.  The final vote in the House was 219 to 212.  It came two and a half hours after 60 Minutes aired Kati Couric’s highly favorable profile of White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel.  Well, tonight he deserved it.

Sinner: Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt.  First he hired ex-Bush speechwriter and fulltime torture apologist Marc Thiessen, whose “giggly, repressed hysteria” is “uncannily reminiscent of the snide Joe McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn,” as Frank Rich observed.  Then Hiatt wrote an exceptionally mindless column  about Obama’s “happiness deficit,” which was brilliantly dissected  by

Winner Greg Marx, paragraph by paragraph. Like this:

Hiatt: I started thinking about this a few weeks ago when Obama confidant David Axelrod, noting that the president always makes time for his daughters’ recitals and soccer games, told the New York Times, “I think that’s part of how he sustains himself through all this.”
Really? Is the presidency something to sustain yourself through?

Marx: Aspiring column writers: note the skillful use of a weeks-old boilerplate quote from an aide as the threadbare cloth from which a new column is spun. Also, the affectation of populist resentment. That’s how the pros do it!

Winner: The tireless Gabe Sherman, for his sparkling 7,300 word exegesis of the war between The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.  Sherman got just about everyone to talk on the record, including the get-of-the-year: Rupert Murdoch’s 101 year-old mother, whom Sherman reached on the phone at her home in Australia.  Dame Elisabeth had these sobering words for her grandchildren: “I’m sure [Rupert] will never retire.  I don’t intend to retire either, and I’m 101.”  And then there was this startling exchange between Sherman and ex-Times executive editor Joe Lelyveld:  “Hats off to Murdoch; he’s serious about print journalism. He’s the last guy standing who believes in it,” says Lelyveld. “Arthur [Sulzberger] is the guy who said a few years ago he didn’t know if the Times will be standing as a print newspaper.” When I asked Lelyveld if he thought his former boss Sulzberger believed in the value of the Times’ print edition, he grew quiet. “I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t want to answer that question.”  Which in turn inspired

Winner Howell Raines (Lelyveld’s successor) to write this about Lelyveld’s comment: “This is like congratulating museums for preserving antique masterpieces while ignoring their predatory methods of collecting.”  The rest of Raines’ attack in The Washington Post on the MSM’s kid-gloves treatment of Murdoch and Roger Ailes is also well worth reading. 

And speaking of Fox News, why is it that only

Winner Jon Stewart ever gives the words of Glenn Beck the attention they deserve, including these immortal declarations: “The roots of progressivism lead to fascism.  One had the hammer and sickle, the other was the swastika but on each banner, here in America, read the words, ‘Social Justice.’”  On Thursday, Stewart spent the first thirteen minutes and five seconds of his show  channeling Beck–brilliantly.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Conservative Libertarian
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Health Care Reform

Winner: Rachel Maddow, for her model visit with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, during which the smartest interviewer on cable television showed how you can be tough, thorough and sophisticated, without ever losing your temper. 

In other words, she displayed all of the qualities that

Sinner: the always smirking David Gregory, never displays on Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Winner: Marc Lacey for a terrifying account on the front page of The New York Times of the horrific effect of the Mexican drug wars on the reporters trying to cover them:  Traffickers have gone after the media with a vengeance in these strategic border towns where drugs are smuggled across by the ton. They have shot up newsrooms, kidnapped and killed staff members and called up the media regularly with threats that were not the least bit veiled. Back off, the thugs said. Do not dare print our names. We will kill you the next time you publish a photograph like that.  “They mean what they say,” said one of the many terrified journalists who used to cover the police beat in Reynosa. “I’m censoring myself. There’s no other way to put it. But so is everybody else.”

Winner: Nick Turse, for a superb expose of America’s appalling edifice complex in Iraq (a $750 million embassy and three hundred military bases) and Afghanistan (a $175 million plus expansion of the embassy in Kabul plus 400 U.S. bases, and another 300 for Afghan soldiers and policemen.)  Not to mention nearly a billion dollars more for a new embassy in Pakistan.

Winner: Ron Unz, for an in-depth debunking of the myth of an immigrant crime wave in America–published, remarkably, in The American Conservative.





The Odd Couple Fighting For Marriage Equality

 Above the Fold

    David Boies and Theodore Olson came to The New York Times headquarters in Manhattan this week to discuss the constitutional challenge they have brought against California’s Proposition 8, which outlawed marriage equality in that state at the end of 2008, after 18,000 same-sex couples had been married there.

    The left-leaning litigator and the right-leaning appellate lawyer, who squared off against each other in Bush v. Gore back in 2000, now seem like old acquaintances who suddenly realized how much they liked each other when they reached late middle age.  

    When they first announced their federal suit nine months ago, with the clear intention of litigating it all the way to the Supreme Court, they caused a quiet uproar within the gay legal establishment, which had made a collective decision to keep the marriage issue out of the federal appellate courts, at least until there was a greater national consensus in favor of marriage equality, or another conservative justice was replaced by an Obama appointee–or both.

    Some people were so skeptical of what seemed like Olson’s very sudden conversion to a left-wing position, they accused him of purposely trying to undermine the fight for marriage equality by pressing the case in Federal Court prematurely.  But Olson’s moving public declarations in favor of same-sex marriage–as well as his brilliant performance at trial before Federal Judge Vaughn Walker–gradually obliterated the doubts about his sincerity.

    New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak was a superb moderator at the Times confab, and he went straight to the controversy over the timing of the lawsuit. 

   Why now? asked Liptak.

   “You never know exactly what the right time is,” David Boies replied.  “But there were three things that made us think this was the right time:”

* We have clients who want to get married

* I think it’s very hard to sustain Prop 8 on any legal basis

* This suit was going to be brought by someone, somewhere, and we thought it was best to bring it with the best possible resources (which included at least thirty lawyers and assorted support staff from the firms of Boies and Olson).

    After the initial shock of the gay legal establishment, it gradually decided to embrace the Boies-Olson effort–and it ended up supplying many of the expert witnesses who helped the lawyers build such a brilliant record at trial.

    The lead lawyer on the other side of the case was Charles Cooper, with whom Olson had actually served in Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department.  Judge Walker had repeatedly asked Cooper exactly what damage would be done to the institution of marriage by allowing same-sex couples to marry, and Cooper persistently avoided answering.  Finally, Cooper conceded, “I don’t know”–and Olson clearly viewed that as an important turning point in the trial.  Judge Walker’s decision in the case is expected sometime later this year.  From there the case will go to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and then, almost certainly, to the highest court in the land.

   The most unlikely fact about this case so far: according to a report last month in the San Francisco Chronicle, Judge Walker, a Republican appointee of President Geoge H.W. Bush, is gay.

    The first action the Supreme Court took in this case was to deny the trial judge’s request to allow the proceedings to be televised–by a 5 to 4 vote.  But Boies and Olson insisted it was a mistake to see that vote as predictive of the final outcome of the case.  They believe the Justices were merely reaffirming their longstanding opposition to cameras in their courtroom under any circumstances, and they were not about to establish any precedent that might undermine their determination to keep things that way–forever.

    To skeptics who can’t see how this particular Supreme Court could ever endorse same-sex marriage, Olson emphasized that the Court had repeatedly held marriage to be “the most fundamental right of associational freedom”–a right which applies to everyone, including even prisoners who have no chance of ever living with their spouses.

    What was even more remarkable than the spectacle of a Reagan appointee making a full-throated defense of marriage equality was the atmosphere in which this confab took place.  Most of those present were gay and lesbian New Yorkers invited to the event.  But in the third row sat New York Times publisher and chairman Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. , and six rows behind him was Andy Rosenthal, the editor of the Times editorial page.

    Thirty years ago, their fathers, Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger and Abe Rosenthal, were running this newspaper, and they shared such antipathy for homosexuals that gay employees of the newspaper believed that their careers depended on keeping their sexual orientations a secret.

    But as the younger Sulzberger began his ascension through the paper’s corporate ranks, he did a  remarkable thing: he made it clear to every single person who worked for him that he would not tolerate an iota of prejudice based on sexual orientation. 

   Practically overnight, he transformed what had been a relentlessly homophobic place into one of the most gay-friendly institutions in the world.  

    And when Sulzberger went against his father’s wishes and started publishing same-sex wedding announcements in the newspaper in 2002, he did at least as much as any state legislature could to legitimize the idea of marriage equality.

    Not at all coincidentally, Andy Rosenthal’s editorial page has published more brilliant editorials in defense of equal rights for gay people than any other editorial page in the world.

    What a difference a new generation can make!

    The Times photographer for this week’s event was Sara Krulwich, a founding member of the New York Chapter of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.  In the audience sat Krulwich’s partner, Lynn Paltrow, and their 17-year-old twins, Allen and Samantha.

    Adam Liptak called on Allen Paltrow-Krulwich to ask the final question, and the senior at The Bronx High School of Science, who is also vice president of the school’s Speech & Debate Team, highlighted another difference between the generations.

    “My name is Allen and my two moms are here,” he said.  “And we have a split in our family–they’re skeptical about bringing this case right now.  But I don’t agree with them.  I personally think that even the worst case scenario leaves all the [other] political strategies in place” to advance the cause of gay marriage.

    David Boies said it was a “great question,” and he agreed with Allen enthusiastically that even a defeat at the Supreme Court would do nothing to undermine the other strategies for equality.

    If indeed that worst-case scenario should come to pass, and this Supreme Court rules against marriage equality–and assuming that Allen Paltrow-Krulwich decides to go to law school–look for him to be the lead lawyer on the next marriage equality case which reaches the top Court, perhaps twenty years from now.

    That case will surely culminate in the next great judicial victory for gay Americans in the Twenty-First Century.

    That eventual outcome is certain, because every new generation of Americans is dramatically more tolerant of sexual diversity than the one that preceded it.

    In our time, that is especially true, because of the example of families like Sara and Lynn and Samantha and Allen.




For the best guess about what will happen next in this case, see the typically brilliant analysis of ACLU LGBT Project Director Matt Coles.

The Boies-Olsen team introduced this anti-gay marriage ad made by the National Organization for Marriage, because they believed it made their opponents’ position look so ridiculous.

The ad’s most important effect was to inspire Stephen Colbert to do his own version: the single best piece of satire of 2009.

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Colbert Coalition’s Anti-Gay Marriage Ad
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Skate Expectations

Boies and Olson previously debated the prospects for marriage equality with Bill Moyers. Read the transcript of that program here.

Winners & Sinners /Oscars & Broadway Edition


Winner: If you only see one play this season, run to the Lucille Lortel Theatre on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village to see Alexi Kaye Campbell’s splendid new play, The Pride, the 2008 hit at the Royal Court Theatre in London, reborn here in a brilliant new production directed by Joe Mantello.  Alternating between 1958 and 2008, the play is a searing portrait of gay life then and now–performed brilliantly by Hugh Dancy, Andrea Riseborough, and, especially, Ben Whishaw, the next big thing in the London theatre.  Must close March 28th!  And please ignore

Sinner Ben Brantley, whose review  completely misrepresented The Pride, especially this paragraph, in which virtually  every word is a lie: “Most of the people in “The Pride” are also, no doubt, in extreme pain. But they remain oddly unmoving, despite fluid direction by Mr. Mantello and polished performances from an ensemble that also includes Adam James in a juicy assortment of roles. Though you always understand the thematic import of what the characters say, it’s harder to credit that they would say it themselves, or in the way that they do. They often seem like illustrations of debate points — human evidence, as opposed to human beings.”

FCP has never seen five more compelling human beings on the stage anywhere.

Winners: Writer Mart Crowley, director Jack Cummings III and the splendid cast in the Transport Group’s gripping revival of  The Boys in The Band, the 1968 landmark play of gay theatre–the first time nine  gay  characters were accurately portrayed on the stage at the same time.  Again, Brantley’s review  is wholly off the mark.

Winners: Colin Firth in A Single Man and Morgan Freeman in Inviticus, both nominated for Best Actor this evening.  Neither of them is likely to win (Jeff Bridges is the favorite) but each of them gives one of the great performances of their careers, especially Freeman as a luminous Nelson Mandela.  Newcomer Nicholas Hoult also does a lovely turn in A Single Man as the student infatuated with the teacher portrayed by Firth.  And director Tom Ford makes sure every scene in A Single Man is beautiful to look at.

Winner: Kathryn Bigelow, who directed The Hurt Locker, the astonishingly good, lowest-budget hit of the year.  This great anti-war polemic will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.  If Avatar doesn’t make it tonight, The Hurt Locker will surely win best picture.

Winner: Laura Linney in Time Stands Still on Broadway.  The veteran actress gives a searing  performance as a war photographer addicted to her craft.

Plus FCP’s Special bonus pick for ink-stained wretches

Winner: Top Secret: The Battle for the Pentagon Papers: John Rubenstein directs a superb ensemble in this riveting account of how Washington Post publisher Kay Graham found the courage to emulate Arthur Ochs Sulzberger by publishing the Pentagon Papers.  The New York Theatre Workshop is giving this radio play by Geoffrey Cowan and Leroy Aarons its first full-scale Off-Broadway production.    Peter Strauss does an extraordinary impersonation of Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, and veterans Larry Pine and Peter Van Norden are equally good as Richard Nixon and Henry  Kissinger.