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Clear it with SidneyHow our blog got its name >

Notes on journalism for the common good
by Lindsay Beyerstein

How our blog got its name

Sidney Hillman was a powerful national figure during the Great Depression, a key supporter of the New Deal, and a close ally of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

When the rumor spread that President Roosevelt ordered his party leaders to “clear it with Sidney” before announcing Harry S. Truman as his 1944 running mate, conservative critics turned on the phrase, trumpeting it as proof that the president was under the thumb of “Big Labor.”

Over the years, the phrase lost its sting and became a testament to Hillman's influence.

It's hard to imagine a labor leader wielding that kind clout today, but we like the idea—and we hope Sidney would give thumbs up to our blog.

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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 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.






great post did you see the blog set up by Dan Savage about helping gay teens to cope with bullying


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