June 2010 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

June 2010

Tom Wallace is Bullish on the Magazine Business

Above the Fold

The next twenty-four months could be the most exciting time in the history of the magazine business.”
                                          –Tom Wallace, Editorial Director, Condé Nast Publications

    FCP sat down for lunch with Tom Wallace this week in the Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria at 4 Times Square, and found himself across from the most upbeat media executive FCP has met in several years.

    The immediate cause for Wallace’s fervor is the new version of Wired magazine. Introduced last month for the iPad, the June issue sold a remarkable 90,000 copies through iTunes, for $4.99 a copy.  With a 70/30 revenue split with Itunes, that meant an immediate jump in circulation revenue for Condé Nast of $314,370.

    And because Condé Nast convinced the Audit Bureau of Circulation to certify its new electronic sales to count the same as its newsstand sales, the new version has more than doubled its newsstand sales overnight–if that electronic sales number holds up.  (Perhaps to help the momentum, the July issue–pictured above–has just gone on sale  for only $3.99.  A CN spokeswoman said “the pricing will continue to evolve and change.”)

    Wallace is hopeful that electronic sales will continue to rise, partly because, while there were two million iPad owners in June, Apple is forecasting there will be ten million by January 1–and some analysts are expecting a total of 60 million tablets from all manufacturers in consumers’ hands by 2015.

    Since there was no discernible decline in Wired’s traditional newsstand sales of roughly 80,000 last month, Wallace believes that virtually all of the iTunes sales were to new customers.  “The cannibalization–if there is any–is not evident,” he said.

    The new version was made possible by a collaboration between Condé Nast and Adobe.  Wired was chosen as the first to use an Adobe platform, partly because its headquarters is two blocks from Adobe’s in California.  “The Adobe people are nice guys, and they’re sensitive to how we work,” said Wallace.  “A couple of their engineers moved into the Wired editorial offices and studied how we make magazines.”

    The Adobe engineers assumed that their main contact would be with the editorial side of the magazine, but Wallace “made it clear from the outset that we wanted this medium to be as friendly and as productive for our advertizing partners as it was for us editorially”–because 80 percent of CN’s revenues are from ads.

    In the new Wired, clicking on an ad leads you to the advertiser’s website–and can also yield the same kind of video or slideshow available on the editorial pages.  Equally exciting for the advertiser: very early data suggests users spend 140 minutes with Wired on an iPad–versus 90 minutes for the printed versions.

    The Adobe platform makes 360-degree imagery possible, so you can take 60 pictures of a single object and view all of them.  And it’s a big step up from the Apple application Condé Nast is using to sell Vanity Fair and GQ on iTunes–both of which have done absolutely nothing to capture the consumer’s imagination.

    Typical iTunes reviews:

    “I love Vanity Fair but this interface is flawed, unintuitive and poorly thought out.”

    “I bought GQ thinking was like the Wired appl, which is great, and this is nothing close.  The layout is just like the paper magazine but in a pdf-like form.  It’s slow!”

    Next up on the Adobe platform: The New Yorker, sometime this fall.

    “We’re feeling good about the future of publishing,” said Wallace, who dealt with the impact of the recession last year by folding Portfolio in April and Gourmet in October.  “The September 2010 issue of Glamour is the largest in twenty-five years, Vogue is up a hundred pages in September from last year, and Vanity Fair is up almost a hundred pages.”

    “The question in everyone’s mind with the economic downturn is how much of this is cyclical, and how much of it is some kind of long-term shift in the media business.  I can’t pretend to know the answer; but in this year so far a fair portion is already showing itself to be merely cyclical.  But we’re not back to the height of 2007.”

    Meanwhile, last week Sports Illustrated released its own highly-hyped iPad app.
Its first issue (also at $4.99) includes a slideshow of photos from the Los Angeles Lakers championship celebration, as well as an eight-minute documentary about a high school baseball team from Macon, Ill.  A single click in many places opens up all of a player’s stats–but only when you have an Internet connection.  Unlike Wired, SI can only be read with wi-fi–partly to reduce the amount of space it takes up on your iPad.

    But while all the big news for the future is digital, last week Rolling Stone proved you can still make big money in the magazine business the old-fashioned way–with a single, blockbuster story.  Michael Hastings’ profile of runaway General Stanley McChrystal  instantly made the venerable magazine the hottest thing on newsstands everywhere.  Even though Rolling Stone almost immediately made the story available online–after Time magazine and Politico had briefly stolen it for their websites–an RS spokesperson told WWD that the new issue had already sold “at least five times the number we normally sell on newsstand, and that’s a conservative estimate.”

    And with average single-copy sales of 104,855, that would mean a whopping 400,000 copy bonus for Jann Wenner from the current double issue–which will be on newsstands for a full month.






The President and his General.

 Above the Fold

Update: Wednesday, 3:30 P.M.:   The president took the necessary step of accepting General McChrystal’s resignation this afternoon, and he did so for exactly the right reason:

    The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general.  It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system.  And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

    Go here to read the full text of the President’s remarks this afternoon.

    For the best explanation of why this had to happen, see the great Bob Dallek on the op-ed page of today’s Times  

    For the dumbest of all on-air commentaries last night, see George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s  World News, as he blithely ignores all of the essential constitutional issues and declares, “if the president fires McChrystal, he risks looking thin-skinned and petulant.”

    Equally bad: Martha Raddatz’s wet-kiss profile of the general on the same broadcast–exactly the kind of coverage which allowed McChrystal to be repeatedly promoted, long after he should have been fired–first for tolerating torture by his troops, and then for being at the heart of the cover-up of the killing of Pat Tillman by friendly fire.


From Tuesday….

    The early headlines about Michael Hastings’s superb piece in Rolling Stone  are all about the outright insubordination of General Stanley McChrystal and his staff, who openly belittled the president, the vice president, the American ambassador in Afghanistan, and the president’s special envoy to the region, Dick Holbrooke, during the month they spent in the company of the Rolling Stone reporter.  

    After the details from “The Runaway General” lit up the blogosphere this morning, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pointedly declined to say that McChrystal is safe in his post.  If Barack Obama genuinely believes in one of the central tenets of American democracy–civilian control of the military–he will fire McChrystal when he shows up at the White House tomorrow to explain himself.

    Here are some of the things McChrystal and his entourage told the Rolling Stone reporter about their civilian bosses and colleagues:

* When he first met Obama, McChrystal thought “he looked ‘uncomfortable and intimidated’ by the roomful of military brass,” and when he met him a second time, a McChrystal aide said the general was again disappointed because “Obama clearly didn’t know anything about him.”

* As he was about to deliver a speech at a French military academy, McChrystal and his staff joked about how he might deflect a question about the vice president: “Are you asking about Vice President Biden?” McChrystal says with a laugh. “Who’s that?”
“Biden?” suggests a top adviser. “Did you say: Bite Me?”

* Like Biden, Karl Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, wisely opposed McChrystal’s demand for a troop surge.  In a leaked telegram to Washington, Eikenberry dismissed Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai as “not an adequate strategic partner,” and warned, “We will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves.”  McChrystal told Rolling Stone he felt “betrayed” by the leak, and added, “Here’s one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, ‘I told you so.’ “

* A McChrystal aide called national security advisor Jim Jones “a clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.”

* McChrystal cringed upon receiving another e-mail from Dick Holbrooke, and another military aide quipped, “Make sure you don’t get any of that on your leg.”

    Hastings does a fine job of capturing the general’s aura in just a few sentences:

    His slate-blue eyes have the unsettling ability to drill down when they lock on you. If you’ve fucked up or disappointed him, they can destroy your soul without the need for him to raise his voice.
    “I’d rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner,” McChrystal says.
    He pauses a beat.
    “Unfortunately,” he adds, “no one in this room could do it.”

    And this is how he describes McChrystal’s entourage:

    The general’s staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There’s a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority.

    Hastings made a  chilling discovery in the archives of a literary magazine at West Point to which McChrystal was a regular contributor.  In a story by the young cadet called  Brinkman’s Note “the unnamed narrator appears to be trying to stop a plot to assassinate the president. It turns out, however, that the narrator himself is the assassin, and he’s able to infiltrate the White House: ‘The President strode in smiling. From the right coat pocket of the raincoat I carried, I slowly drew forth my 32-caliber pistol. In Brinkman’s failure, I had succeeded.’”

    The immediate question today is how McChrystal and his staff could have been so dumb as to be so un-guarded in front of a reporter.   The most Machiavellian explanation is that the general already realizes his mission is doomed, and therefore wants to be fired so that he can go home.

       “It’s not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win,” Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal,  told the Rolling Stone reporter. “This is going to end in an argument.”

    But the guess here is that McChrystal is so used to seducing reporters he never imagined that one might finally come along and tell the truth about him.   In sharp contrast with Dexter Filkins’ squishy-soft profile  of the general in The New York Times Magazine last fall, Michael Hastings does not gloss over any of the details of McChrystal’s central role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire, or the multiple abuses committed by his troops at the “Nama” base outside Afghanistan, where they routinely tortured prisoners, and festooned the base with signs reading “NO BLOOD, NO FOUL,” which Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall reported in 2006 “reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: ‘If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it.’” (For more on all of this, see FCP’s McChrystal post from last October.)

    NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski and Richard Engel reported today  that McChrystal may actually have been a victim of the volcanic eruption in Iceland.   Hastings told the NBC men he was supposed to spend just two days with the general in Paris, but then he and his entourage got stranded by the volcano, and they ended up spending ten days with the reporter. “As the ash disrupted air travel, Hastings ended up being ‘stuck’ with McChrystal and his team for 10 days in Paris and Berlin. McChrystal had to get to Berlin by bus. Hastings says McChrystal and his aides were drinking on the road trip ‘the whole way.’”

      But the new article’s details about McChrystal’s shortcomings are not the only reason that it is vastly superior to the piece Filkins wrote last fall.  What is most important about the Rolling Stone article is the convincing evidence it presents of the utter hopelessness of the American effort in Afghanistan.

     Hastings writes that McChrystal’s vaunted new counterinsurgency strategy, know as COIN

    calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation’s government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve.”

    “The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,” said Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. “The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”

    Although the White House refused to give the general a vote of confidence today, he did receive enthusiastic support from a handful of Afghan “experts.”  A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai told the Associated Press that the Afghan leader thinks McChrystal “is a person of great integrity” and he hopes Obama will not replace him.  

    Karzai’s deeply corrupt half-brother,  Ahmad Wali Karzai, stongly supported the president’s position.  He said McChrystal “is active. He is honest. He does a good job, a lot of positive things have happened since he has come.”

    And then there was this from Michael O’Hanlon, the senior fellow at Brookings who is one of the most craven and most consistent supporters of America’s permanent war.  McChrystal made a big mistake, O’Hanlon told Politico, “but he is a fantastic general, and not only that but a modest man who is respectful of others…We need him, and Ambassador Eikenberry, for this effort, and I am confident knowing both men well that they can put these issues behind them for the greater good.”

    On the other hand, Joe Scarborough–yes, that Joe Scarborough– said, “This general has to be fired, he has to be gone by the end of the day,  Gates and Petraeus have to come out and fire McChrysta.l”

     Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham also failed to support the general.  They called McChrystal’s comments “inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between commander-in-chief and the military.  The decision concerning Gen. McChrystal’s future is a decision to be made by the president of the United States,” they said.

    Tomorrow we will learn whether the president has the guts to finally get rid of him.


Gulf Lessons

 Above the Fold

 “I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown: in this case, a $20 billion shakedown.”

                                                                             –Congressman Joe Barton, Texas (R)

    Let us now praise Congressman Joe Barton, representative of the 6th District of Texas, and the first Republican with the gumption to declare his supreme devotion to all corporations, foreign and domestic, now doing business in these United States.

    Now it is a fact that big business regularly rents the sentiments of congressional Democrats. But it is also a fact that corporate America owns the Republican party–lock, stock and (oil) barrel.  That was why it was so refreshing to finally hear a Republican publicly declare the love that (normally) dares not speak its name.

    Of course the House Republican leadership was appalled by this dangerous burst of candor, and immediately threatened Barton with the loss of his position as the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee unless he immediately put this corporate cat back  into its bag.

    That was the only reason Barton retracted his remarks in the afternoon, making his previous statement “inoperable,” just the way the Nixon White House regularly did during Watergate, three-and-a-half decades ago.

    Meanwhile, the un-elected Republican establishment left no doubt that Barton’s first statement was the true Republican boilerplate, rather than the retraction that followed.

* Pat Buchanan: “Barton made a very courageous statement in my judgment..To have anyone stand up and even indirectly defend [BP] and say that they were a victim of a shakedown shows some political courage.”

* Laura Ingraham: “I think Joe Barton, before he apologized, had a legitimate point…This administration has taken a very aggressive and strong arm approach to industry across the board.”

* Fox commentator Andrew Napolitano: “That is a classic shakedown. The threat to do something that you do not have the authority to do. ”

* Newt Gingrich: “That a president is directly engaged in extorting money from a company…. What it says to the world is be very careful about investing in the United States because the political class may take the money away from you.”

* The Wall Street Journal editorial page: “Meanwhile, BP’s agreement sets a terrible precedent for the economy and the rule of law, particularly for future industrial accidents or other corporate controversies that capture national outrage. The default position from now on in such cases will be for politicians to demand a similar “trust fund” that politicians or their designees will control.  There was in particular no reason for BP to compound its error and agree to spend another $100 million to compensate the oil workers sidelined by the Administration’s policy choice to impose a drilling moratorium. BP had no liability for these costs, and its concession further separated its compensation from proper legal order.  BP deserves to pay full restitution for the damage it has caused, but it ought to do so via legal means, not under what Texas Republican Joe Barton rightly called the pressure of “a shakedown” yesterday…BP at first sounded arrogant and now is so obsequious it won’t even stand up for its legal rights. “

    In the end, the Journal concluded, “it’s hard to know who is more unlovable, BP or its Washington expropriators.”

    This wonderfully rational notion from Gingrich–that unless the Obama administration stops beating up on the big corporations, they will take all of their marbles away and simply abandon the biggest economy of the world–is exactly what you would expect from the idiot talking heads like Gingrich whom Fox News (and too often, Meet the Press) are so addicted to.

    On the other hand, one doesn’t expect this idea to be embraced by the chief Washington correspondent of the The New York Times.  The week the Obama administration finally responded to the Gulf crisis with an action which was dramatic, substantial, and genuinely great–forcing BP to guarantee that it would pay at least $20 billion to the victims of this catastrophe–Timesman David Sanger offered the very worst kind of  “on the one hand, on the other hand news analysis” –a piece that inexplicably led the newspaper.

    According to Sanger, Barton’s farcical apology (his first one) had given “voice to an alternative narrative, a bubbling certainty in corporate suites that Mr. Obama, whenever faced with crisis that involves private-sector players, reveals himself to be viscerally antibusiness.”  Sanger then followed up with a quote from a former Clinton official about how Obama risked losing the big companies he needed to revive the economy.  This made the “alternative narrative” sound like a serious idea–instead of right-wing Republican claptrap coming mostly from the likes of Gingrich and Ingraham.

    Although Sanger never quoted Gingrich in his story,  the Times reporter ended by echoing him, with this ludicrous conclusion: Obama “will have to avoid painting with such a broad brush that foreign and domestic investors come to view the United States as a too risky place to do business, a country where big mistakes can lead to vilification and, perhaps, bankruptcy.”

    WHEN TEXANS LIKE JOE BARTON DISTINGUISH THEMSELVES BY APOLOGIZING  to a foreign oil company which has just caused the greatest domestic environmental catastrophe of the 21st Century, FCP immediately asks: “What would Molly Ivins say?”–if only she were still with us to comment on the Congressman’s shenanigans.

    Fortunately, Ivins’ clips tell us exactly how she viewed the great Congressman from the 6th District.  Three and a half years ago, Ivins wrote of her delight about the way Congressman Barton was reaching  out to some of his more prosperous constituents:  

    He’s going to spend next weekend aboard a private train with lobbyists who pay $2,000 for the privilege. After a seven-hour run from Fort Worth to San Antonio, there will be cocktails, an evening tour of the Alamo, dinner and breakfast on Sunday.

    The Dallas Morning News reports the invitation reads, “During the ride, we’ll have lots of time to talk, play some Texas Hold ‘Em, and enjoy some great down home Texas food. This is about as good as it gets.”

    It’s the delicatesse of the invite that I appreciate, and I think the price is right, too — only $2K for hours of uninterrupted access to the chairman whose committee has jurisdiction over about half of what Congress does — including oil policy, pro baseball, Medicare and environmental regulation.”

    The year before that, Ivins applauded a

no-cost sweetener to encourage oil and gas companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico – and who needs more encouragement these days than the oil companies? The poor things are making hardly any money at all. Just have the federal government waive the royalty rights for drilling in the publicly owned waters. Turns out this waiver will cost the government at least $7 billion over the next five years.” 

    And who was the prime mover behind this great good government move: Joe Barton, naturellement.

    Ivins wrote,

    I roared with laughter upon reading that Texas Rep. Joe Barton had assured his colleagues the provision of energy bill was “so non-controversial” that senior House and Senate negotiators had not even discussed it. That’s one of the oldest ploys in the Texas handbook of sneaky tricks and has been successfully used to pass many a sweet deal for the oil industry.

   “The big lie about this whole program is that it doesn’t cost anything,” Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey told The New York Times. “Taxpayers are being asked to provide huge subsidies to oil companies to produce oil – it’s like subsidizing a fish to swim.”

    All of which reminds us of one more sorry fact: Ivins was much more reliable about the inner workings of Washington than most of the reporters who live there.


    Fortunately, we still have non-Washington reporter Jon Stewart to sum things up for us:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Day 59 - Judgment Day - The Strife Aquatic
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party



Above the Fold

     On May 25th John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil, was invited into the New York studio of NBC’s Nightly News to make a striking proposal.  Brian Williams introduced the retired executive’s plan this way: “You’re an advocate of something that has worked in the Arabian Gulf, which is surrounding it with super tanker ships.” 

    Hofmeister replied, “There was an unpublicized spill, in the early ‘90’s in the Arabian gulf, where there was so much oil–far larger than anything we’ve seen in this country–where a fleet of supertankers was put to work with powerful pumps inside these supertankers to both pull in oil, and push it out.   Depending on the need.  You can take these supertankers in formation, take water and oil together off the surface, a million barrels per copy, go unload it in tanks, separate the water and the oil, discharge the water back into the sea.  I think we should be seriously considering some kind of tank formation, with three, four five supertankers, get this oil off the surface, so it doesn’t wash up into the wetlands.”

    It was a striking idea–exactly the kind of bold proposal the White House had failed to come up with, the sort of thing which–if it actually worked–might obliterate the ghost of impotence which so far has shadowed all of the efforts to contain the disastrous spill in the Gulf.

    So it seemed perfectly logical, a couple of days later, when ABC’s Jake Tapper included the tanker issue in his question to the president at his White House press conference:

    “You say that everything that could be done is being done, but there are those in the region and those industry experts who say that’s not true….There are industry experts who say that they’re surprised that tankers haven’t been sent out there to vacuum, as was done in ‘93 outside Saudi Arabia.”

    The president ignored that part of Tapper’s question, and so the question lingered–why wasn’t the administration pursuing this bold move?

    When Brian Williams solicited “frequently asked questions” about the disaster from his viewers, FCP replied with this one:

    “What has the administration said in response to the retired Shell president on your air who said a flotiilla of super tankers should be deployed to suck up the oil?  The president was asked about it at his press conference but never answered.   What has NBC done to get an answer?”

    FCP’s inquiry seems to have reached Williams’s personal producer, and may have sparked the first serious effort by the news organization to answer this question. 

   Apparently, it didn’t take very long to find the answer: the consensus of most experts is that the super-tanker suck-up strategy only works on extremely contained oil spills–and therefore isn’t a practical approach to the vastly dispersed catastrophe in the gulf.   This news became part of  the Nightly evening news budget–but then got cut for time around 5:30 PM.

    However, Williams still had the perfect opportunity to set the record straight and resolve the mystery of why the administration had apparently rejected the supertanker recommendation, because the ex-Shell president was back on the broadcast that night.   But instead of challenging Hofmeister’s plan with the new information gathered by NBC’s staff, Williams greeted Hofmeister this way:

       “When you were last on the air with us I asked you about the idea that some have proffered about surrounding it with supertankers–you said it wouldn’t work with this kind of spill.”   

    That, of course, was the exact opposite of what Hofmeister had said.   Why did Williams exonerate his guest by re-inventing his original statement, instead of challenging him on it or asking him to retract it?

    FCP put that question in e-mails to Nightly executive producer Bob Epstein and senior broadcast producer Aurelia Grayson, as well as Williams’s personal producer Subrata De, NBC spokesperson Summer Wilkie, and NBC Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker.

    Having heard nothing back from anyone at NBC, after twenty-two hours FCP telephoned Summer Wilkie’s office, to make one more effort to determine whether anyone thought it mattered that the managing editor of Nightly had said something flatly false on the air.  Finally, at 2:14 today, Williams issued this statement to FCP:

    “I made an honest mistake while anchoring from the field and interviewing John Hoffmeister [sic] via remote.  He had appeared on our broadcast before–I confused his view on supertanker efficacy with that of a previous guest.  I’ve apologized to John.”

    A spokesman for Williams said he would acknowledge this error on his blog sometime Tuesday–but that would still leave nearly all of the viewers of Nightly in the dark.  On the air would be the proper place for this correction.

    MEANWHILE, OVER AT THE NEW YORK TIMES, the letters department was tying itself in knots, trying to straighten out the latest prevarication of David Blakenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, and star opponent of marriage equality last winter in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the constitutional challenge to California’s ban on gay marriage being brought by David Boies and Theodore Olson.

    Blakenhorn was eviscerated in that trial on cross-examination by Boies, who, among other things, elicited the fact that this so-called “marriage-expert” had never taught a single course at any college or university, had no degrees in anthropology, psychology or sociology–and whose only peer-reviewed paper was a study of two cabinetmakers’ unions in 19th-century Britain.

    Boies also deepened the mystery surrounding Blakenhorn’s opposition to gay marriage, after getting the witness to acknowledge that he believes “that adopting same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children,” that “the principal of human dignity musty apply to gay and lesbian persons,” and, finally “that we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were the day before.”  Apparently, Blankenhorn would prefer us to remain less American.

    Money may actually be the answer for why Blankenhorn offered himself as an expert witness opposed to gay marriage, but more on that later.

    Like every other opponent of marriage equality, Blankenhorn has been desperate to distance himself from George Rekers, another so-called expert in this field, ever since Rekers was caught by Miami New Times returning from a ten day jaunt in Europe with a 20-year-old companion he had found for himself on rentboy.com.

    This was more than a little embarrassing, since Rekers has spent most of his professional life arguing that homosexuality is a curable disease–and he was a co-founder with James Dobson of the Family Research Council, a major force within the religious right, and one of the most virulently homophobic institutions in America.

    Rekers may have made more money than anyone as an expert witness for bigotry, having collected $200,000 from the state of Florida for his testimony in support of a state law banning adoptions by gay people, and another $60,000 for his appearance at a similar case in Arkansas.

    So naturally, Blakenhorn was mortified when Frank Rich pointed out that a court document filed in the California case revealed that the star witness had read one of Mr. Rekers homophobic screeds before offering his “expert” testimony.

    Rushing to protect his reputation, Mr. Blankenhorn simply ignored the naked fact of his Rekers connection, and dispatched a letter to the Times declaring, “I have never met Mr. Rekers or read any of his writings…This matter is particularly important to me, since in my report to the court, as well as in my testimony on the stand, I clearly and emphatically rejected the anti-gay views that Mr. Rekers has apparently expressed.”

    The trouble was, as Mr. Blankenhorn revealed in his own blog, thirteen days after his letter to the Times was published, Mr. Blankenhorn had read one of Mr. Rekers reports–and Mr. Blankenhorn had actually sworn to that fact in a deposition taken by opposing attorneys.

    That fact, Blankenhorn wrote, was also “reported to the court in a separate document…containing a list of everything that I as an expert witness had ‘considered’ in preparing for my role in the case.’”

    When some alert reader at the Times noticed this posting, a letters editor asked  Blankenhorn to write a new letter, correcting the previous one, in which he had falsely accused Frank Rich and the author of a news story on the same subject of making a connection Mr. Blankenhorn had pretended did not exist.

   That second letter appeared on June 5.  But afterwards, in his own blog, Blankenhorn remained unrepentant.  The Times, he said, has “strict standards, especially when those standards suit them.”

    In other words, when you write a letter that directly contradicts your own sworn deposition, the Times will ask you to write another letter correcting yourself.  What will they think of next?

    In the hope of clarifying some of Mr. Blankenhorn’s motives, FCP e-mailed him, asking what kind of checking Mr. Blankenhorn had done before sending his first furious letter, and how much he had been paid for his testimony in the California trial.

    Mr. Blankenhorn declined to answer any of FCP’s questions.  

    FCP regrets Mr. Blankenhorn’s silence, because it makes it impossible to answer one more important question: Has Mr. Blankenhorn’s career as an expert witness been as profitable as Mr. Rekers’ was?