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.
Winners & Sinners: From Schanberg to Bingham
Sinners: E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, and all of the reporters who have failed to point out that Gee earned nearly $2 million serving as a member of the board of Massey Energy and chairman of its Safety, Environmental and Public Policy Committee. (See the relevant SEC filing here.) Gee has publicly portrayed himself as a fierce advocate of green energy while feeding at the trough of one of the worst coal companies in America. FCP sent him this query:
1. How long did you serve as the chairman of the safety and environmental and public policy committee of Massey Energy?
2. What steps did you take to reduce the number of safety citations against Massey during your chairmanship?
3. Was your total compensation during your years on the Massey Board more than $1 million and less than $2 million?
Gee’s assistants, Kate Wolford (Wolford.email@example.com) and Viviana Ruiz (Ruiz.firstname.lastname@example.org) both acknowledged receipt of FCP’s inquiry, but no one in the president’s office responded to its contents. After a massive campaign by Ohio Citizen Action, which included 6,800 letters and pictures drawn by children, as well as t-shirts sported by OSU students asking, “Why, Dr. Gee?”, the president finally left the board last year. But he was careful to say that he was “retiring,” not “resigning,” to make it clear that he wasn’t succumbing to pressure from outsiders.
Second Update: This is Dr. Gee’s second stint running Ohio State. He has also been president or chancellor of Brown, Vanderbilt and the University of Colorado. Four years ago The Wall Street Journal reported that those institutions had spent more than $10 million to build or renovate Dr. Gee’s various residences, including $6 million at Vanderbilt alone. The annual tab for his personal chef and entertaining at Vanderbilt was $700,000. Dr. Gee is described as a “Mormon teatotaler,” but his then wife, Constance, stirred controversy by using marijuana in the president’s mansion at Vanderbilt. Her husband attracted additional headlines in 2002 by declaring his intention to boost the academic caliber of Vanderbilt students by soliciting more Jewish applicants.
Winner: The indispensable Clara Bingham, whose post today at The Daily Beast
makes it abundantly clear why “Hollywood couldn’t have invented a better villain” than Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy. Bingham writes:
As the toxic streams and topless mountains multiply, the business community has embraced Don Blankenship and put him on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. You would think that Blankenship’s board, which consists of prominent business figures like the former head of the National Security Council and CIA Deputy Director Council Bobby Inman and former SEC commissioner and chief counsel of News Corp. International Barbara Thomas Judge, would have intervened by now.
Winner: FCP colleague Sydney Schanberg, whose collected war correspondence, Beyond The Killing Fields, has just been published by Potomac Books. Schanberg was one of the greatest war correspondents in Indochina, and this collection includes FCP’s favorite magazine piece of all time, The Death and Life of Dith Pran, which was the basis of the iconic anti-war film, The Killing Fields. Schanberg's book should be required reading for every journalism student in America–and everyone else who is serious about the history of the wars in Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. It includes details of John McCain’s shocking role in covering up credible reports that hundreds of his fellow American prisoners were left behind in Vietnam after the war was over.
Winner: New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, whose new book, Why Architecture Matters, has become an instant classic, and is now going into its fifth printing from Yale University Press. The Pulitzer Prize winner's book was published simultaneously with a collection of Goldberger’s pieces, Building Up and Tearing Down: Reflections on the Age of Architecture, from Monacelli Press.
Sinners: The editors of The New York Times Book Review, who have ignored both of Goldberger’s books, after giving a full page to a collection of pieces by Ada Louise Huxtable, Goldberger’s predecessor as architecture critic at The Times, and the same space to a posthumous collection by Goldberger’s immediate successor, Herbert Muschamp. Before joining The New Yorker, Goldberger was the Times’ architecture critic from 1973 to 1990, its culture editor from 1990 to 1993 and its chief cultural correspondent from 1994-1997. The failure of the Times to write about either of his new books is beyond baffling.
Winner: The sublime Jane Mayer, for her devastating review in The New Yorker of Marc Thiessen’s appallingly dishonest book about torture and terrorism, Courting Disaster (published, of course, by Regnery, where all prosperous neocons go to publish their paranoid fantacies). One significant example of Thiessen’s serial lying: according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch in 2006, Thiessen’s account of the thwarted plot to hijack seven airplanes at Heathrow airport and blow them up over the Atlantic is “completely and utterly wrong.” Thiessen, who has never met a torture technique he isn’t in love with, pretends that some of the information that prevented the plot came from the torture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. However, according to Clarke of Scotland Yard, “The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K."
Very fortunately for Thiessen, massive intellectual dishonesty is no longer any barrier to working for...
Sinner Fred Hiatt, who baffled everyone with a still-functioning brain at The Washington Post and elsewhere when he made Thiessen the Post’s newest op-ed columnist. How could Fred miss what is so obvious to Frank Rich and to so many others: that Thiessen’s “giggly, repressed hysteria” (as seen on The Daily Show) is “uncannily reminiscent of the snide Joe McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn.”
Winner: Jon Stewart, for once again performing his function as television’s leading press critic, by pointing out that Fox News is the only American television network where you can count on the guest and the host being equally dishonest, on virtually every program. This time it was Newt Gingrich trading outright lies with the inimitable Sean Hannity about Barack Obama’s new nuclear policy. Very fortunately for Gingrich, being completely dishonest has never been a barrier to being one of the most frequent guests of all of the network Sunday chat shows--where, naturally, Gingrich encounters just as much fact checking as he does on Fox.
Update: Jon Chait and the indispensable Steve Benen add this addtional important perspective on the former House Speaker:
With disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich having spent quite a bit of time this week in the national media -- an oddly frequent occurrence -- Jon Chait raises an objection that often goes overlooked.
On the subject of Gingrich, here's one thing I don't understand. John Edwards' philandering has made him a public pariah, understandably so. But Gingrich's marital behavior was probably even more disgusting. He cheated on his first wife and told her he wanted a divorce while she was recovering from surgery for cancer. He subsequently cheated on his second wife with a much younger aide. It's fairly amazing how Gingrich has managed to avoid any stigma from this. He's just a conservative "ideas guy."
I'd go just a little further, still. Gingrich's scandalous personal life and admitted adultery was concurrent with Gingrich launching an impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton for ... his scandalous personal life and admitted adultery.
Gingrich then proceeded to characterize himself as an ally of the religious right, and started giving tours of Washington's "Godly heritage."
In other words, Gingrich's political work was discredited, his moral standing was discredited, and his scholarship has been discredited. And yet, he remains a go-to guest for major media outlets, and has positioned himself as one of the right's "big thinkers."
When we talk about the bankruptcy of conservatism, Gingrich offers a helpful example.
Winners: The women writers of Newsweek, who convinced their editors to publish 2,500 words on how far the women’s liberation movement still has to go, forty years after 46 Newsweek women filed an anti-discrimination suit against their bosses. The current Newsweek journalists acknowledged that until gender-discrimination scandals hit ESPN, David Letterman and The New York Post, the three of them knew virtually nothing about the struggle of their predecessors. They needed to read Susan Brownmiller’s splendid memoir, In Our Time, to begin their education. “We passed it around, mesmerized by descriptions that showed just how much has changed, and how much hasn't.” And don’t miss the accompanying feature displaying more than fifty years of women-themed Newsweek covers.