October 2010 | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

October 2010

The Three Billion Dollar Election


Campaign spending graphic courtesy of NBC News


     Above the Fold

    If corporate control of the state is a pillar of fascism–and it is–it’s hard to imagine what could have pushed us faster in that direction than last January’s decision by the Supreme Court in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission

    That decision made it possible for every corporation and fat cat from Boeing to David Koch to spend without limit to destroy any candidate they wish to destroy.  If that strikes you as hyperbole, listen to what Rob Collins, the president of American Action Network, one of the leading Republican groups in this campaign season, said to Jim Rutenberg a couple of days ago in a great  story in The New York Times:

    “We carpet-bombed for two months in 82 races, now it’s sniper time.  You’re looking at the battle field and saying, ‘Where can we marginally push — where can we close a few places out?’”

    Sniper time indeed.  Together with Karl Rove’s two “carpet-bombing” organizations, the American Action Network has spent $45 million on television ads.   Bob Perry, the man behind the Swfit Boat Veterans, has contributed $7 million this year to Collins’ group.  All by himself.

    The day the Supreme Court’s decision was announced in Citizens United, Barack Obama called it “a green light to a new stampede of special interest money in our politics” and “a major victory for big oil, Wall Street banks, health insurance companies and the other powerful interests that marshal their power every day in Washington to drown out the voices of everyday Americans.”  

    Nothing he has said as president has proved to be more prescient.

    Last night on NBC’s Nightly News Chuck Todd said that the newest estimate of spending on television ads by all sides by the time the election is held is now $3 billion.

    Three Billion Dollars.  That obscene figure–unlike anything allowed in any other “advanced” democracy in the world–is $300 million more than was spent two years ago (a presidential election year) and $600 million more than was spent in the last mid-term election, according to Todd’s report.

    As Justice John Paul Stevens predicted in a blistering 90-page dissent to the majority’s god awful opinion

     The court’s blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment may well promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression the Amendment was meant to serve.”  He pointed out that the majority’s approach to corporate electioneering marked  “a dramatic break from our past. Congress has placed special limitations on campaign spending by corporations ever since the passage of the Tillman Act in 1907…The Court’s opinion is thus a rejection of the common sense of the American people, who have recognized a need to prevent corporations from undermining self-government since the founding…Few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.

    Of course, the Republicans prevented the passage of any law this year that would have made more disclosure necessary, much less imposing any limits on campaign expenditures by corporations which do business with the federal government, which might be one way to temper the impact of this appalling decision.   

    So corporate America can now spend as many billions as it wants to distort democracy through television ads–and the biggest winners of all are General Electric, the Walt Disney Company, Sumner Redstone and Rupert Murdoch–the owners of NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox, which will collect more of this flood of money than anyone else.

    Besides having bottomless pockets to promote their agenda, the Republicans also have an enviable unity, which includes the decision by the Republican establishment to support some of the most extreme and incompetent candidates ever to present themselves for public office in our lifetimes.

      That includes no less than five Senate candidates who oppose abortion in all circumstances, including rape and incest.    Joe Miller, the Republican primary winner in Alaska, has been exposed for having so many ethical lapses in his background, his pitch to the voters, according to  the indispensable Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly, now goes something like this:

   “Never mind my background, never mind my qualifications, never mind my record, never mind my inexperience, never mind my record of professional misconduct, and never mind my scandalous campaign tactics. Vote for me anyway, because I’m really right-wing.” 

    As Benen says,  “That this guy, largely unknown to voters up until very recently, is poised to win a U.S. Senate seat is more than a little bizarre.”

    Add to the Republican advantage the 24-hour a day, seven day a week support of the Fox network, whose parent company has donated millions to the Republican governors’ campaigns and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and you have a juggernut poised to oust dozens of Democrats from the House and Senate.

    Whether or not this Tsunami of money will be enough to switch control of both houses remains to be seen.   The guess here is that the Senate, at least, will remain in Democratic hands, while Republican gains in the House may be a good deal smaller than the most extravagant Republican predictions.   But what makes a Republican triumph all the more likely is the shocking attitude of the left towards this election.

    As it has so many times before in the last four decades, the left is once again far more eager to eat its own young than it is to vanquish the appalling candidates the Republicans are running for office.

    Now it is certainly true that Barack Obama’s administration has made some terrible mistakes.   The biggest ones on FCP’s list are the surge in Afghanistan, the failure to prosecute any of the bankers who created the financial catastrophe which brought the nation to its knees, and the continuation of some of the previous administration’s most heinous “anti-terrorist” policies.

    But this is also a president who enacted health care and financial reform against the united opposition of the Republicans.  And whatever the deficiencies of those bills may be–and there are many–they are still two of the most impressive achievements of any president in the last fifty years.   

    The fact that thousands or millions of Americans may  sit home next Tuesday instead of voting is just the latest proof of the incredible political immaturity of my fellow progressives.   This is an attitude the right wing has been able to rely upon, all the way back to 1968, when just enough Democrats stayed home to elect Richard Nixon, because Hubert Humphrey had not opposed the Vietnam War loudly enough or quickly enough to suit them.

    The truth is, Barack Obama is probably the best president we will elect for a very long time to come.   Can you really imagine any Republican president recording a video for a campaign to prevent gay teenagers from comitting suicide?

     So while it is certainly necessary to hold the president’s  feet to the fire on everything from Afghanistan to the banking industry, it is even more important to make sure we do everything we can to prevent a frightful group of extremists from seizing control of the House and Senate. 

     This president is our president.  And he needs us now more than he has ever needed us before.

    As Frank Rich wrote in another brilliant column last Sunday,

     Even as the G.O.P. benefits from unlimited corporate campaign money, it’s pulling off the remarkable feat of persuading a large swath of anxious voters that it will lead a populist charge against the rulers of our economic pyramid — the banks, energy companies, insurance giants and other special interests underwriting its own candidates. Should those forces prevail, an America that still hasn’t remotely recovered from the worst hard times in 70 years will end up handing over even more power to those who greased the skids.

    That is an outcome that should be repellant to all of us.




Winners & Sinners: From (bloggers) Quinn and Meacham to (Congressman) Grayson




Winners Joseph Huff-Hannon, Oakleigh Marshall, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

 Sinners:  Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham, for posting one of the most repellent pieces ever to appear on the blog of a mainstream newspaper–their On Faith blog at Wasghintonpost.com

Quinn and Meacham displayed their usual excellent judgment by posting this classic piece of anti-gay propaganda (homosexuality is “a behavior that is harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large”) on the anniversary of the death of  Matthew Shepard.   It was written by Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, who makes a fine living by spewing precisely the kind of hatred which creates the climate which encourages gay teenagers to kill themselves.

Perkins wrote, “Within the homosexual population, such mental health problems are higher among those who “come out of the closet” at an earlier age.”

The truth, from Andrew Lane, executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation, who actually knows what he’s talking about:

While queer folk of all ages experience mental health issues (particularly depression, anxiety and substance abuse) at hugely disproportional rates, there is no evidence to suggest that coming out younger makes matters worse. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that young people out of the closet are LESS likely to be depressed or anxious.  And while as yet unproven, I am convinced that the less time a human being spends in the closet, the fewer bad things (health issues, behaviors, choices) will happen downstream.

Among Tony Perkins’ many splendid achievements is the address he gave before the Council of Conservative Citizens,   a lovely organization which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has routinely denigrated blacks as “genetically inferior,” complained about “Jewish power brokers,” called homosexuals “perverted sodomites,” accused immigrants of turning America into a “slimy brown mass of glop,” and named Lester Maddox, the baseball bat-wielding, arch-segregationist former governor of Georgia, “Patriot of the Century.”

FCP pointed out to Quinn that her blog was no longer “an embarrassment; it’s a humiliation–for you, for Jon and for The Washington Post.”  Quinn responded by offering to print FCP’s view on her blog: “We are always happy to present diverse views. That’s what we do on “On Faith.”

FCP responded, “I’m all for diversity, but what you did was the equivalent of offering [Public Safety Commissioner] Bull Connor a bullhorn–after he used dogs against the demonstrators in Birmingham in 1963.  Is that something you would have done too?”  

Quinn did not reply.

For Quinn’s second greatest embarrassment of 2010, don’t miss her column  about how not to schedule a family wedding.   That one ended her career as a regular columnist for the Style section.  Unfortunately, her blog lives on.

Winner: Rachel Maddow, for two in-shadow interviews with two active-duty, in-the-closet Air Force Majors about how America’s idiotic Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy detracts from unit cohesion and harms our national security.    Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ordered an immediate end to the policy because it is clearly unconstitutional.  Bowing once again to bad advice from the Department of Defense, the Obama administration is appealing the judge’s ruling, partly because DOD says straight troops need time to learn how to live in the same barracks as gay troops. 
Note to Secretary Gates: that’s actually been going on in America since 1776.

Winner:  J. Kane Latta for a fine piece   at Truthout about the importance of passing the Equal Employment for All Act, which would make it illegal for employers to use the private credit reports of American job applicants when making hiring decisions for most positions. Latta writes:

Bad credit means no job and no job means bad credit. Second chances in Hollywood and professional sports occur every day, but the rest of America is locked down in a modern-day debtors’ prison run by credit bureaus and ruled by corporate greed. A two-class America of the elite and the poor is becoming more and more a reality, thanks in part to the continuing practice of pre-employment credit checks.

Winner: Joseph Huff-Hannon for an excellent feature    for the Indypendent about the quest of Evie Lou Hunt to find out exactly what happened to her brother Billy Lee, one of 30,000 activists, artists, and musicians who were “disappeared” in Argentina after a  fascist dictatorship that seized power there in the spring of 1976.

Sinner: NBC News correspondent Kelly O’Donnell for one of her typically content-free pieces, this one two minutes and 31 seconds about the race between Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons for the Senate seat from Delaware.  The closest the NBCer got to talking about an actual issue: quoting Tea Partyer O’Donnell as saying “my opponent has a history of promising not to raise taxes on the campaign trial and then breaking those promises as soon as he takes office.” 

The piece should be used in journalism schools everywhere–to highlight everything that is wrong about the network news broadcasts.

No on-air  word from Kelly  about whether she might be related to her namesake.

Winners:  The Los Angeles Times, and its reporters, Tiffany Hsu, Alana Semuels Don Lee for a comprehensive (and heartbreaking) series   about the causes and effects of the unemployment crisis in California

Winner: Ira Schor, for a useful corrective   to Waiting for Superman, the documentary which extols the virtues of charter schools.  Schor writes:

[The film maker] conveniently ignores the policies which enforce decline on public education. Instead, he glamorizes charter schools but wisely does so through irresistible stories of adorable, deserving kids and their desperate parents who pin their hopes on lotteries for admission to charter schools. 

Winner:  Wellesley College professor Susan M. Reverby, who uncovered one of the most ghastly government-sponsored experiments ever: American public health doctors who deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans with venereal diseases in an effort to test the effectiveness of penicillin.  As Donald McNeil wrote in his comprehensive report in The New York Times:

American tax dollars, through the National Institutes of Health, even paid for syphilis-infected prostitutes to sleep with prisoners, since Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When the prostitutes did not succeed in infecting the men, some prisoners had the bacteria poured onto scrapes made on their penises, faces or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture. If the subjects contracted the disease, they were given antibiotics.

However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear,” said Professor Reverby.

Winner:   Jean Friedman-Rudovsky for a harrowing account  of the effects of the drug war in Juarez,  Mexico, the “murder capital of the world.”  Rudovsky reports:

Over the past two and a half years, more than 5,000 people (an average of more than five a day) have been killed in an intensifying drug war that has reached deep into children’s lives — kids gather at crime scenes, stumble onto recently slain bodies, are forced to witness relatives’ assassinations, or are killed themselves…Ten thousand of Juárez’s 500,000 children under the age of 14 have been orphaned, according to El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Juárez-based university and research institution. Of those murdered, 43 were between the ages of 12 and 15. More than 200 were between 16 and 18.

Winner:  Ken Kolker of WOOD8, the NBC-tv affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for his portrait of Oakleigh Reed, a transgender high school senior whose campaign for homecoming king was blocked by school administrators.  After Kolker’s piece was picked up by CNN and NBC, it sparked a movement among teens from around the world, who came out in support of Reed, whose “Oak is My King” Facebook page grew from 100 members to more than 10,000 in less than a week (now up to 12,535.)

Winner:  Congressman Alan Grayson of  Florida, for the a concise and brilliant explanation of the latest chapter in the mortgage foreclosures scandal, which ought to lead the imprisonment of scores of bank executives–but almost certainly will not.

Winner:  Scott Pelley for a calm, thorough and sensible assessment on 60 Minutes  of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center (and mosque) in downtown Manhattan.


Scott Pelley speaks to Sharif El-Gamal, Congressman Alan Grayson



Winners & Sinners: From Leibovich to Moylan


Jessica Bennett, Mark Leibovich, Glenn Beck


Sinner: Mark Leibovich, who managed to write 8,000 words about Glenn Beck  for the cover of next Sunday’s New York Times Magazine–without telling us anything new, original or important about the Fox “news” man. 

 Leibovich does, however, offer the following penetrating insights:

*  “I stand with the Tea Party as long as they stand for certain principles and values,” Beck told me.  He is a principles-and-values guy.

*  Beck and his friends emphasize that he is driven by principles, not politics. He has been critical of Republicans as well as of Democrats, of George W. Bush as well as of Obama. He says that American citizens who are terrorist suspects should be read their Miranda rights, and he opposes a Constitutional amendment that would ban flag-burning.  His friends object to any hint that Beck has merely fashioned his worldview according to a marketplace that rewards shock, chutzpah and discord.

* He is more agonized than mad.   He is post-angry.

* Fans approach Beck and give him hugs.  Do people feel they can hug Limbaugh?

* His characteristic chalkboard lends his show an air of retro-professorial authority…

It’s not that Leibovich doesn’t include any criticism of Beck.  It’s just that when he does, he feels compelled to show that he’s way too post-modern and hip to take any of it very seriously.

Thus, when Leibovich writes:

Or if you prefer: ‘Even the leather-winged shouting heads at Fox News look like intellectual giants next to this bleating, benighted Cassandra,’ wrote The Buffalo Beast, in naming Beck one of the 50 most loathsome people in America in 2006. (No. 24 then, but in January he made it to No. 1.) ‘It’s like someone found a manic, doom-prophesying hobo in a sandwich board, shaved him, shot him full of Zoloft and gave him a show.’

 That is inevitably followed by this :

O.K.,  the dude’s polarizing.  Got it.”

Or  then there’s  this:

President Obama is not a Muslim, Beck has said, correctly. But Beck can’t help wondering aloud on his show: ‘He needlessly throws his hat into the ring to defend the ground-zero mosque. He hosts Ramadan dinners, which a president can do. But then you just add all of this stuff up — his wife goes against the advice of the advisers, jets to Spain for vacation. What does she do there? She hits up the Alhambra palace mosque. Fine, it’s a tourist attraction. But is there anything more to this? Are they sending messages? I don’t know. I don’t know.’”

This of course is  nothing more or less than the cheapest, oldest, and vilest form of McCarthyism–but it would be oh-so-unhip for Leibovich to make that judgment.

Finally, there is this remarkable sentence:

[Roger] Ailes, a former Republican media guru, runs his top-rated cable-news network like a sharp-edged campaign, speaking with a single voice and — ideally — for the benefit solely of Fox News’s bottom line.”

All of which prompted FCP to send the following query to Leibovich:

I have a couple of questions about your Beck profile.

You report: “And as of Sept. 21, 296 advertisers have asked that their commercials not be shown on Beck’s show (up from 26 in August 2009).”
Why didn’t you mention this was the product of an organized boycott sparked by Beck’s remarks saying that Obama was a racist?

Did you ask Beck if it’s true that he he’s going blind, as he has recently implied?

You write: “Ailes, a former Republican media guru, runs his top-rated cable-news network like a sharp-edged campaign, speaking with a single voice and — ideally — for the benefit solely of Fox News’s bottom line.”

How can you write sentence like that about a network whose parent company gave $1 million to elect Republican governors this year, and another $1 million to the US Chamber of Commerce?
Isn’t it obvious that Ailes is running the network to promote a political agenda, as well as the bottom line?

So far, no response from Mr. Leibovich.

Yesterday, Times executive editor Bill Keller announced that Hugo Lindgren would succeed Gerry Mazaroti.  Keller wrote,

This Sunday’s issue, with the cover on Glenn Beck, is a reminder that Gerry will be a hard act to follow.

Actually, it proves just the opposite.

Saturday Morning Update (it gets worse.)  You won’t know how just how hard-hitting Leibovich’s magaziner is (for Leibovich)–unless you begin by reading his gauzy interview with Christine O’Donnell in the national pages of this morning’s Times.   Presumably, as soon as her handlers read Leibovich’s piece about Beck online, they realized, “he’s our boy”–and granted him a “rare interview” on Thursday with the Republican nominee for the Senate from Delaware.

Score one for O’Donnell’s handlers.

Suddenly, the woman who has said that distributing condoms to teenagers reduces “them to the level of a dog,” calls gay bashing “kids being kids” and believes a woman must “submit” to her husband is magically transformed by Leibovich into a candidate merely trying to avoid “the media carnival that has arisen over her success as well as her apparent résumé exaggerations, past legal woes and old video clips showing her holding forth on issues such as chastity (good), masturbation (bad) and witchcraft (a teenage dalliance).” 

After her very unfair trashing at the hands of Karl Rove, thank God O’Donnell found the gentle touch of Leibovich to rehabilitate her.

Sunday Update: As usual, Frank Rich is the only person at the Times to get to the heart of the matter, which the Times “news” reporter avoided so assiduously.

Rich explains:

Christine O’Donnell, Tea Party everywoman… just may be the final ingredient needed to camouflage a billionaires’ coup as a populist surge. By the time her fans discover that any post-election cuts in government spending will be billed to them, and not the Tea Party’s shadowy backers, she’ll surely be settling her own debts with fat paychecks from “Fox & Friends.”

Winner: Brian Moylan, for a moving and important piece in Gawker (of all places)  about the most horrifying story of the week, the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the college student who took his own life after his roomate used the internet to broadcast Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man.  Moylan writes:

 What seems most befuddling about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the gay teen whose roommate broadcast him having sex, is how this one incident lead to his death. It’s because being a gay teen can be akin to prolonged torture… [Teenagers are] just like normal people, but amped up on a combination of hormones and self-doubt that makes them particularly awful. And mean! Teens are cruel, especially to other teens and especially to other teens who are perceived as different.

Imagine your worst high school memory and multiply it by ten and that is how bad it is for many gay teenagers every day. The ones that have it the worst are those that are bullied repeatedly by their peers until they become suicidal, drop out of school, or are robbed of their education because they can’t focus on learning the Pythagorean theorem or the amendments to the Constitution because they’re thinking about how they’re going to physically survive the day. In many cases, parents, teachers, principals and other grown-ups don’t care about about the gay student’s problems and condone the bullying behavior, either explicitly or with their own inaction.

Sinner: Newsweek’s Jessica Bennett, for a perfectly repellent piece  at Newsweek.com on the same subject, which reported that bullying really isn’t anything new, so why is the media making so much out of four gay teenagers killing themselves right in a row? 

Bennett writes that “The hype around bullying has lead to demands for ever-more drastic punishments for those labeled bully”–including a possible five year sentence for Clementi’s roomate, Dharun Ravi, and his alleged accomplice, Molly Wei, for this despicable prank.

FCP believes five years in jail  for each of them would actually send exactly the right message to their peers about this kind of disgusting behavior.

Winner: Lisa Miller, for a splendid cover story in this week’s Newsweek about the “mama girrlies”  emulating Sarah Palin and running for office acorss America, pretending that they are determined to save America’s children–by repealing health care rform, opposing CHIP, which helps low-income kids get health insurance, opposing kindergarten programs at risk–and of course, prohibiting abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. 

Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s moving position on that subject: “asked by a radio interviewer in June what she’d tell a young girl who’d been raped by her father, Angle responded, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’  and that the girl should turn ‘a lemon situation into lemonade.’”

Winner: Human Rights First, for reminding us that a terrorist is on trial right now in Federal Court in Manhattan–and hardly anyone has even noticed 
The indispensable human rights organization reported:

Ahmed Ghailani, a former Guantánamo detainee, is charged with plotting with Al Qaeda in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people. Not a nice guy.

Former Mayor Giuliani says these trials will make New York unsafe, even though as Mayor he supported the federal court trial of the blind sheik who bombed the World Trade Center. Karl Rove said, “we will see that this was an utter unmitigated disaster for the security of the United States.”

Yet, our federal courts have convicted 400 terrorists since 9/11, while Guantánamo has convicted only 4. Politics based on fear rather then national security do not serve the public.
Here was the scene around the federal court house for the Ghailani trial: The streets were not blocked off. There were no legions of helicopters. Those who live and work near the court did not stay away. The police didn’t need an extra dime for added security.”

And yet, Charles Schumer and Michael Bloomberg both joined the idiotic chorus opposing the trial of  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan.