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.
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 ofNBC, ABC, CBSand 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.
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.
October 15, 2010
Winners & Sinners: From (bloggers) Quinn and Meacham to (Congressman) Grayson
Winners Joseph Huff-Hannon, Oakleigh Marshall, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky
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.
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.
Scott Pelley speaks to Sharif El-Gamal, Congressman Alan Grayson
October 1, 2010
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 promptedFCP 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.
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 ofTyler 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.
FCPbelieves 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.’”
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.
September 24, 2010
Winners & Sinners
Left to right: Derek Leebaert, Jonathan Karl, Lisa Meyers
Winner, Derek Leebaert, author of Magic And Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan.
Forget about Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, full of pettiness (and petty scooplets) and devoid, as always, of any meaningful analysis whatsoever. By far the most interesting book this month from Alice Mayhew (and Simon and Schuster) is Magic and Mayhem, a superb account of the “magical thinking” responsible for America’s capacity to repeat the same foreign policy disaster over and over again since the end of World War II.
Written by Derek Leebaert, a management consultant who has taught foreign policy at Georgetown since 1996, the book describes America’s interventions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq as “surrounded by a host of dangerous self-deceptions” that he sums up as “magical thinking.”
I call it ‘magical’ because shrewd, levelheaded people are so frequently bewitched into substituting passion, sloganeering and haste for reflect on, homework, and reasonable objectives…When we think magically, we expect to astounding outcomes of our own design…Magical thinking entails seductive, familiarizing rituals. In the excitements of global policy, we court some truly grim entities as imginary friends, such as venal client states that eventually implode and splatter us in their collapse…We resort to bad analogies and inferior quanitative techniques while stilling our doubts with mantras of ‘stabiility’ and ‘democratcy’ accompanied by the usual creepy euphemisms like ‘collateral damage,” “enhanced interrorogation,’ or percentage of ‘DOE,” meaning ‘Death on Earth. When the outcomes do not match expectations, as has been to often the case, it is magically assumed that it was the particulars that were gotten wrong, not that the overall objective was misconceived.”
Barack Obama should make this book required reading for everyone participating in the Afghanistan review due to be completed this December.
Sinner: ABC’s Jonathan Karl, for a World News piece about Christine O’Donnell which was devoted exclusively to the irrelevance of attacks on the Delaware Republican Senate nominee for her admitted dalliance with Satanism. By focusing exclusively on that charge, Karl’s piece made O’Donnell look like a victim of elitists–instead of the dangerous fool who promised George Stephanpoulos that when elected, she would fight “to defend the homeland of our security.” Among O’Donnell’s other greatest hits, none of which is getting the attention it deserves from the MSM:
* O’Donnell excused gay bashing as ‘kids being kids’; asked if she could “understand why gays might be upset?” by someone calling homosexuality a “deviant sexual orientation,” O’Donnell replied, “Absolutely not. I cannot understand.”
* She believes the proper role of a woman is to “submit” to her husband. ”This is not about merely a Baptist doctrine. This is a biblical doctrine.”
* She thinks that spouses who have been cheated on possess compromised ‘purity.’
* She once told Joe Scarborough that she wants to stop “the whole country from having sex.”
* She thinks that distributing condoms to teenagers ‘reduc[es]them to the level of a dog.’ and that condom distribution is “‘just going to further the spread of AIDS.”
* She warned that allowing women to attend military academies “cripples the readiness of our defense.”
And finally, FCP’s personal favorite (Satanism, anyone?):
* O’Donnell thinks The Sopranos are a model family. “The thing that attracts people to The Sopranos is the family element. It shows that America still has a longing for that traditional upbringing.”
Sinners: Ariana Eunjung Cha and Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post and the always-ordinary Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times for two woefully inadequate accounts of the president’s interview by John Harwood of CNBC. (The account on NBC’s Nightly News was just as bad.) All three focused almost exclusively on the unhappiness of some of the president’s questioners, while ignoring the real lead of the story, which was only available from Michael A. Memoli in The Los Angeles Times: “President Obama sought to challenge critics who say his administration has been hostile to businesses, arguing in a televised forum Monday that measures he has taken to stabilize the economy have boosted the private sector….While some have accused him of being hostile to Wall Street, Obama said a “big chunk” of the nation “feels like I’ve been too soft on Wall Street.”
Another quote from the president you didn’t see in The New York Times or Washington Post stories:
A big source of frustration – this quote that you just said, this was me acting like Hitler going into Poland, had to do with a proposal to change a rule called “carried interest,” which basically allows hedge fund managers to get taxed at 15 percent on their income. Now, everybody else is getting taxed at a lot more. (Laughter.) The secretary of the hedge fund is probably being taxed at 25, 28 – right? And these folks are making – getting taxed at 15….The notion that somehow me saying maybe you should be taxed more like your secretary, when you’re pulling home a billion dollars or a hundred million dollars a year, I don’t think is me being extremist or being anti-business. (Applause.) And that’s the confusion we get into.
Sinners: Anne Thompson and Lisa Myers, both of whom took turns on NBC’s Nightly News this week, attacking Ken Feinberg for making payouts too slowly to victims of the Gulf Spill from the BP relief fund. Thompson said Feinberg’s record was no better than BP’s, and Myers followed up a couple of days later with multiple complaints against Feinberg’s performance. What neither of them reported: according to a Reuters story earlier this week, from Aug. 23 to Sept. 3 Feinberg was paying out roughly $3.5 million a day, about the same daily amount as BP had been paying when it operated the fund. But since September 3, Feinberg has been paying out an average of $12.5 million–an increase of much more than 300 percent.
Reached by FCP, Myers said: “I have no doubt that the numbers reflect that more checks are going out,” and she acknowledged that her main sources for the story were lawyers for people seeking payouts. She added. “I would be surprised if Mr. Feinberg thought that we were unfair.”
Anne Thompson acknowledged receipt of FCP’s inquiry, but did not respond to it.
September 17, 2010
Remembering Paul Conrad
An FCPguest post
By Harold Meyerson
In bestowing our awards on trenchant, progressive journalism here at Hillman, there’s one category of TPJ we have generally overlooked: editorial cartooning. But if ever there was a journalist with a trenchant, progressive body of work, it was Paul Conrad, the great editorial cartoonist at the Los Angeles Times, who died earlier this month at age 86. Conrad was surely the nation’s pre-eminent editorial cartoonist from the mid-Sixties through the early Nineties, as the Washington Post’s Herbert Block (Herblock) was in the decades before.
Conrad cartoons didn’t speak to the reader; they shrieked. He drew from a well of Swiftian savage indignation, and splashed his ire over racists, militarists, and right-wingers in general, and Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (both as governor and president), and Sam Yorty (the demagogic mayor of Los Angeles in the Sixties and early Seventies) in particular.
Like his fellow Angeleno Raymond Chandler, Conrad was at home in noir. There was often a lot of black in Conrad cartoons – in particular, shading or surrounding that most noir-ish of politicos, Nixon. For an Angeleno such as I, steeped in lore and power of the Times, Conrad’s war on Nixon (who, in turn, put Conrad on his enemies list) was the happiest of turn-abouts. The pre-Otis-ChandlerTimes had virtually created Nixon, with political editor Kyle Palmer making sure that the news pages sung his praises from his first congressional campaign in 1946 through his first presidential campaign in 1960. But that was the year that Otis took over the paper from his father and, to the dismay of the rest of the Chandler family, began remaking the Times into a great paper. Nothing sped that conversion more than his hiring of Conrad (from the Denver Post) in 1964.
For the next 22 years, as publisher and then as chairman of the company, Otis protected Conrad from the rage of L.A.’s conservative elites, prominent among whom were other members of the Chandler family, which owned the paper. But in 1986, the Chandler cousins – a collection of paleo-Birchers and kindred yahoos – ousted Otis. In 1990, Cardinal Roger Mahony and other local conservatives successfully prodded the paper to oust liberal (and pro-choice) editorial page editor Anthony Day.
Most of Conrad’s obituaries simply noted that he stepped down from the Times in 1993, but that’s not really a true picture of what happened. Times management, inhabiting a conservative cocoon and increasingly isolated from their increasingly liberal city, had clearly come to believe Conrad was more trouble than he was worth to them – a judgment they made known by deed if not by explicit word to Conrad himself. When he left, they hired a conservative non-entity to take his place, pledging, however, to continue running Conrad with some regularity. As the paper’s former longtime city editor Bill Boyarsky has documented, though, that meant they ran him no more than sporadically.
Conrad kept cartooning, but without a steady platform for his work. His attacks on George W. Bush were brilliant and fierce – when and if you could find them. Nonetheless, they added to a body of work that had already established Conrad as a peer of Thomas Nast and Herblock, as one of America’s great editorial cartoonists.
Harold Meyerson is a longtime judge for The Hillman Prizes, the editor-at-large of The American Prospect, and a weekly columnist for The Washington Post. Currently he is also a guest columnist for The Los Angeles Times. Last year The Atlantic named him one of America’s fifty most influential columnists. He is the author of Who Put The Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz, a biography of Broadway lyricist Yip Harburg.
September 7, 2010
Winners & Sinners: from Mayer to Peretz
Winners: The incomparable Jane Mayer, for her devastating portrait in The New Yorker of David Koch, who has bought his way into New York society with tens of millions of dollars of donations to cultural institutions like the American Ballet Theatre, while simultaneously financing climate-change denying and pollution promoting think tanks, and her editor, David Remnick, for publishing the piece after New York magazine had published a mostly-gushing profile of the same subject.
Koch’s handlers used the hoary technique of trying to kill one piece by promoting another one, in this case by cooperating with New York’s friendly reporter, SinnerAndrew Goldman, while denying Mayer access to Koch and most of his closest associates. The strategy succeeded in producing the profile Koch wanted in New York, but failed to kill the devastating piece in The New Yorker authored by Mayer. A few examples of the reporters’ contrasting approaches:
Mayer: Greenpeace issued a report identifying [Koch’s] company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.
Goldman: [Koch] also opposes the president’s climate-change proposals.
Mayer: In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States.
Goldman: In his office, Koch showed me a photocopied flyer Greenpeace had produced with sketches of him and Charles below the words “Wanted for Climate Crimes” and shook it in the air. Koch Industries’ emissions, Koch told me, are far less than legally required.
Mayer: Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”
Goldman: Richard Fink insists that Koch’s political activity is about principles, not money. “I view David as a courageous American who has a set of beliefs that he’s willing to support consistently over time despite all the flak he gets,” Fink says. “Very few people would do that.”
Sinner: Martin Luther King Jr. biographer Taylor Branch, for a bizarre op-ed piece in The Times, in which he praised Glenn Beck’s recent rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial because Beck “made peace for one day with the liberal half of the American heritage. That is a good thing. Our political health, in the spirit of Dr. King’s march, requires thoughtful and bold initiatives from all quarters.”
Branch noted that his “cringing search” of Beck’s archives had turned up “diatribes on Dr. King as a dangerous socialist, and on President Obama as an alien Muslim,” but utterly failed to convey the right-wing pundit’s habitual tone (and perpetual tears).
Among mainstream reporters, only Dana Milbank has managed to do that recently: “Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News since Obama’s inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obama – as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck’s nightly ‘report.’”
Note to Branch: one day without hatred does not compensate for 24 months of non-stop insanity.
As the great Arthur Gelb has pointed out, the kid-gloves treatment of Beck by so much of the mainstream press is revoltingly reminiscent of the way most of the establishment treated red-baiter Joe McCarthy, before Ed Murrow and others finally turned on him. The reason then, and now, was fear.
Winner: Michael J. Mishak for a brilliant dissection of how Meg Whitman has already spent $104 million of her own money in her quest for the governorship of California–just $5 million less than Michael Bloomberg spent to be re-elected Mayor for a third term in New York City.
Mishak reports: “Those donations have allowed her to target her campaign mailings to the smallest subsets of voters and sort out which television shows are popular among independent voters. (It turns out they are big fans of “Bones,” the crime show rife with romantic tension, on which Whitman has aired ads.) Dozens of outside consultants and a paid staff the size of some presidential campaigns run an operation that seems to be the living embodiment of Whitman’s book title: “The Power of Many.”“
Sinner: Martin Peretz for an even more repellent post than usual about the mosque controversy, in which he declared “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”
Fifty years ago, it was singularly appropriate that the Jewish establishment in America was one of the pillars of the black Civil Rights Movement. The contrast between that natural sensitivity to prejudice and the disgusting declarations of Peretz and the Anti-Defamation League could not be more striking–or more distasteful. Winner: Barry Eisler, for his splendid new novel, Inside Out–the first pro-gay, anti-torture C.I.A. thriller of the new millenium–a riveting page turner with a very unusual social-conscience.
August 12, 2010
Winners & Sinners / Summer Edition
Winner:Todd Purdum, for “Washington, We have a Problem,” in Vanity Fair (September print issue only, so far). This is the best piece FCP has read about Washington in many years, the obverse of Mark Leibovich’s 8,100 word love letter to Mike Allen on the cover of The New York Times Magazine last April (which FCP described here).
Purdum is the quintessential Washington insider, a long-time Timesman turned Vanity Fair correspondent, married to ex-Clintonista Dee Dee Myers. But somehow, Purdum manages to avoid all the Washington cliches so prominent in pieces like Leibovich’s. Here is a small sample of Purdum’s pungent aperçus in that rarest of 10,900 word pieces – the kind you actually want to read all the way to the end:
* over many decades…the neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively.
* a new president…found himself for much of his first year in office in stalemate, pronounced an incipient failure, until the narrowest possible passage of a health-care bill made him a sudden success in the fickle view of the commentariat, whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight. And whose opinion spun around once more when he strong-armed BP into putting $20 billion aside to settle claims, and asserted presidential authority by replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus. The commentariat’s opinion will keep spinning with the wind.
* The evidence that Washington cannot function…is all around. For two years after Wall Street brought the country close to economic collapse, regulatory reform languished in partisan gridlock. A bipartisan commission to take on the federal deficit was scuttled by Republican fears in Congress that it could lead to higher taxes, and by Democratic worries about cuts to social programs. Obama was forced to create a mere advisory panel instead. Four years after Congress nearly passed a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, the two parties in Washington are farther apart than ever, and hotheaded state legislatures have stepped into the breach. Guantánamo remains an open sore because of fearmongering about the transfer of prisoners to federal prisons on the mainland.
* To Rahm Emanuel…Washington is just “Fucknutsville.”
* The press may claim the vestigial title of Fourth Estate, but it is the lobbying industry that is now effectively the fourth branch of government. Lobbyists had their biggest year ever in 2009, with expenditures of $3.5 billion, or $1.3 million for each hour that Congress was in session, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The total number of officially registered lobbyists in Washington is now about 11,000, down from a peak of nearly 15,000 in 2007, due in part to new restrictions. But that number doesn’t come close to reflecting reality…. If you throw in all the people doing “government outreach” and “congressional liaison” at the countless trade associations and advocacy groups, the total number of people in Washington working to influence the government in one way or another actually runs closer to 90,000. There were 2,500 registered lobbyists working on financial-industry reform—mainly against it—or roughly five for each member of Congress. The biggest single lobbying effort last year was mounted by the United States Chamber of Commerce (an opponent of much, if not most, of Obama’s agenda), which by itself shelled out $144 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s more than the total annual payroll for every elected official in Congress. (On this subject Purdum acknowledges FCPmishpokheRobert G. Kaiser, and his splendid book, So Damn Much Money. OK, so there is a media conspiracy.)
* In the 1974 congressional elections, total spending on Senate and House races came to only $77 million. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, by 2008 the figure was $1.36 billion
* Thanks to cable, the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook, there is no such thing as a “news cycle” in Washington—only one endless, undifferentiated full-color stream of fact, opinion, and attitudinizing, where lies and misinformation flourish equally with truth.
* Fox News is waging a fiercely partisan war against the administration. When Obama flew to Prague this spring to sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, continuing a process put in place by Ronald Reagan, the Fox News midday anchor, Megyn Kelly, took note of the trip as she cut to a commercial break, then added, “Now critics are asking, Will the new deal leave the U.S. defenseless until it’s too late?” Kelly’s face disappeared from the screen and was replaced by grainy black and- white footage of an exploding nuclear bomb.
* Rahm Emanuel—describing how the administration had managed the Afghan surge, which deeply divided Democrats at the very time it was counting solely on Democratic votes to get the health-care bill through the Senate, without either effort derailing the other—works himself into the ultimate insider’s amazement that “not one journalist out of 150” in “this entire fucking town” took note of the White House’s skill. “Nobody put two and
And most importantly:
* The pace of the modern presidency—or, rather, the pace of modern life, as amplified by the media and by the impatience of the public for action of any kind—has the perverse effect of making the most measured of politicians seem out of sync, and the most visionary policies seem incremental and thus unsatisfying. By definition, it will take years for the result of changes in the nation’s health-care system, or its energy policies or education policies—or anything else of note—to be fully in place, much less fully understood, much less proven effective. Anyone who risks taking on the toughest problems automatically risks being seen as not having done enough about them to get any credit by the time the next news cycle, or election cycle, rolls around. It’s a conundrum that vexes any president: there’s no short-term gain for long-term wisdom. Durable achievement demands a long time horizon—something that the country as a whole seems to have lost. We can’t wait for the carrots to grow—we keep pulling them up to see how they’re doing. Thus, deeply complex problems, from illegal immigration to the BP oil spill—problems that by definition have no quick or easy solution, despite their obvious urgency—become easy emblems of presumptive failure, whatever the president may actually be doing to address them.
Purdum’s Bottom Line:
* Obama’s gamble is that, if you look after the doing of the presidency, the selling of the presidency will look after itself. The short-term price may come in stalled poll numbers, electoral setbacks, and endless contradictory advice from the kibitzers. The payoff, if there is one, lies out on some future horizon. Obama may be right about this strategy, or he may be wrong. But it is the strategy he is following nonetheless.
Winner: The Hillman Foundation’s favorite illustrator, Edward Sorel, for his brilliant drawing in Vanity Fair, accompanying Purdum’s Washington piece.
Winners: CNN producers Karrah Kaplan and Ines Ferre. While practically everyone else in the media (and the White House and theNAACP) was convicting Shirley Sherrod on the basis of a crudely edited videotape, Kaplan and Ferre went after the only two people who could speak authoritatively about the charge being made against her: the farmer Roger Spooner, and his wife Eloise, both of whom ended the attacks on Sherrod by identifying her as their savior. Kaplan was the producer who located the Spooners; Ferre was the person on the ground who convinced them to go on air after they initially refused to do so. Proving once more that shoe leather can be much more powerful than base right-wing propaganda.
Winners: New York Times labor reporter Steve Greenhouse, for spotlighting a clothing factory in the Dominican Republic that is pioneering the concept of paying its workers a living wage, and Joseph Bozich, the C.E.O. of Knights Apparel, who is “hoping to prove that doing good can be good business, that they’re not mutually exclusive.”
Sidney Hillman would definitely approve.
Sinner: Paul Steiger, who, for the second year in a row, contradicted the implied spirit of the name of the organization he helms — ProPublica — by paying himself $571,687 in salary, plus $13,430 in other compensation in 2009, which is almost identical to what he received in 2010. ProPublica general manager Dick Tofel had defended this compensation in the past because, he said, it was 59 percent less than what Steiger made as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.
But as Dan Gillmorhas pointed out, according to Charity Navigator’s 2009 survey of CEO compensation at medium to large charities, the average CEO pay (including bonuses and expenses) in New York (the highest regionally), where ProPublica is based, was about $220,000 — which is less than half of what Steiger makes.
Winner: The incomparable Hendrik Hertzberg for another superb comment in The New Yorker, this time about the mosque proposed for downtown Manhattan, the cause du jour
of the wackosphere — which, in this case, includes the Jewish Anti-Defamation League. As Hertzberg mentions, the venerable Jewish civil-rights organization has “disgracefully” defamed its own name by joining Sarah Palin in fighting against construction of the mosque — and religious freedom — in opposition to saner Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and the U.J.A.-Federation of New York.
Winner: Khadija Sharife, for a penetrating look at the dark side of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) — the “non-profit” governing body of international soccer which earned $3.3 billion from this year’s World Cup.
Winner:Frederick Kaufman, for a fine expose of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index in Harper’s Magazine(subscription required) which explains how the Wall Street octopus brought chaos to grain prices, and thereby caused a surge in famine around the world.
Winner: William “Biff” Grimes, for a superb obituary of historian (and Sidney Award winner) Tony Judt. Beautifully written and perfectly balanced, this is New York Times obituary writing at its very best.
Winner: Gloria Feldt for a splendid piece in The Washington Post about how popular culture has altered the debate about abortion in America.
August 7, 2010
A Voice of Sanity from the Federal Bench
Above the Fold
Chief District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’sopinion declaring that marriage equality is a fundamental right under the constitution is the third most important Federal Court decision for gay people since the modern gay rights movement was born forty-one years ago.
Whether or not Judge Walker’s decision becomes the law of the land will almost certainly depend on Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court–the swing voter in virtually every 5 to 4 decision of the Court, who just happens to be the author of the other two most important federal decisions in this area: Romer v. Evans, which threw out a Colorado state constitutional amendment prohibiting laws protecting gay people from discrimination, and Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated all the remaining state laws which made non-heterosexual sex illegal. (Interestingly, in his violent dissent to Lawrence, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that Kennedy’s majority opinion would open the way to gay marriage.)
Much of Judge Walker’s decision echoes echos both Romer and Lawrence, especially this passage from the Lawrence decision: “The fact that the governing majority in a state has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice; neither history nor tradition could save a law prohibiting miscegenation from constitutional attack.”
What was most heartening about Judge Walker’s decision was the way it explicitly validated the view of all of the sane people who followed this trial closely: the defenders of Proposition 8, the California initiative which forbade marriage equality, failed to provide a shred of serious evidence that marriage between two members of the same sex would have any deleterious effect on anyone, for any reason.
The star witness for the Prop 8 supporters was David Blankenhorn, president of the American Institute for American Values, which paid him and his wife $317,500 in salary in 2008, the latest year for which records are available. Blankenhorn was also paid for his testimony in the Proposition 8 trial, although he has refused to tell FCP how much he received.
Whatever the sum was, Judge Walker made it clear that the Prop 8 supporters did not get their money’s worth.
Judge Walker’s opinion devoted an extraordinary amount of space to make Blankenhorn sound like a complete charlatan. Among the judge’s pithier observations about Blankenhorn’s testimony:
* Blankenhorn lacks the qualifications to offer opinion testimony and, in any event, failed to provide cogent testimony in support of proponents’ factual assertions.
* He has no degree in sociology, psychology or anthropology despite the importance of those fields to the subjects of marriage, fatherhood and family structure;
* His study of the effects of same-sex marriage involved “read[ing] articles and
ha[ving] conversations with people, and tr[ying] to be an informed
person about it
* He relied on the quotations of others to define marriage and provided no explanation of the meaning of the passages he cited or their sources.
* Nothing in the record other than the “bald assurance”of Blankenhorn suggests that
Blankenhorn’s investigation into marriage has been conducted to the “same level of intellectual rigor” characterizing the practice of anthropologists, sociologists or psychologists.
* Blankenhorn’s conclusion that married biological parents provide a better family form than married non-biological parents is not supported by the evidence on which he relied because the evidence does not, and does not claim to, compare biological to non-biological parents.
* Blankenhorn gave absolutely no explanation why manifestations of the deinstitutionalization of marriage would be exacerbated (and not, for example, ameliorated) by the presence of marriage for same-sex couples.
* Much of his testimony was contradicted by his opinions.
* Blankenhorn agreed that children raised by same-sex couples would benefit if their parents were permitted to marry. Blankenhorn also testified he wrote and agrees with the statement “I believe that today the principle of equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons. In that sense, insofar as we are a nation founded on this principle, we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were the day before.”
* The court now determines that Blankenhorn’s testimony constitutes inadmissible opinion testimony that should be given essentially no weight.
Judge Walker was equally contemptuous of the testimony of Kenneth P. Miller, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, whose opinions in the trial, the judge said, “were inconsistent with the opinions he expressed before he was retained as an expert. Specifically, Miller previously wrote that gays and lesbians, like other minorities, are vulnerable and powerless in the initiative process, contradicting his trial testimony that gays and lesbians are not politically vulnerable with respect to the initiative process.”
Since the judge, as the trier of facts, dismissed all of the testimony of the star witnesses in opposition to marriage quality, it will be much more difficult for any appeals court to find a basis for over-turning his decision.
As John Schwartz explained in a fine article in the Times “appeals court judges and the justices at the highest court in the land could find themselves boxed in by the careful logic and structure of Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s opinion.”
And as Andrew Koppelman, a professor at Northwestern Law School, explained to Schwartz, “while appeals courts often overturn lower-court judges on their findings of law — like the proper level of scrutiny to apply to Proposition 8 — findings of fact are traditionally given greater deference. ‘They are supposed to take as true facts found by the district court, unless they are clearly erroneous. This opinion shows why district courts matter, even though the Supreme Court has the last word.’”
Furthermore, instead or relying on “strict scrutiny,” Judge Walker said Proposition 8 does not even meet “a rational basis review”–which also makes it harder for a higher court to over-turn him
Judge Walker happens to be gay himself–the San Francisco Chronicle called his orientation “an open secret”–so naturally the wackos are already calling for his impeachment, in their never-ending quest to use hatred to raise money for their dubious organizations. Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association, was among the very first to use the judge’s opinion to send out a new fund-raising appeal to his members.
But as Monroe H. Freedman of Hofstra Law School pointed out in the Times “You could say, ‘If a gay judge is disqualified, how about a straight judge?’ There isn’t anybody about whom somebody might say, ‘You’re not truly impartial in this case.’ ” And another legal expert said that if no one had tried to get the judge to recuse himself before the trial, it’s too late to call him unqualified after he had rendered his decision.
Judge Walker’s opinion was a huge victory for the odd couple who argued that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, David Boies and Ted Olson–who have said all along that the law was so clearly in their favor, the measure’s unconstitutionality would be self-evident to anyone who was serious about this subject.
Judge Walker has written an opinion which has richly confirmed that point of view. “The Judge obviously intended this to be his monument,” said Matt Coles, the eminence grise of gay litigation at the American Civil Liberties Union, “and it is his monument.”
Now all we need is for Anthony Kennedy to emulate Judge Walker, and genuine marriage equality will finally be the law of the land.
July 26, 2010
Winners & Sinners: Sherrod Edition
Sinner:David Carr, for another woefully inadequate piece about Andrew Breitbart in today’s New York Times, whose problems begin with its headline: “Journalists, Provocateurs, Maybe Both”
By no reasonable definition does a man who repeatedly posts deceptively edited videos qualify as a “journalist.” And to quote Breitbart saying he is “merely bringing some honesty to how journalism is prosecuted in a modern age” is like quoting Mark McGwire, if he had bragged that he had only used “the best tools that modern science can provide” to improve his baseball playing.
Instead of characterizing Brietbart as the dishonest propaganda provider that he is, Carr offered him his own choice of monikers: “journalist, provocateur, advocate.” (Breitbart chose all three.)
And for the umpteenth time a Times reporter identifies Breitbart as the man who “famously brought Acorn to its knees by releasing heavily edited video clips that suggested the poverty organization had provided advice to a conservative activist posing as a pimp”–without bothering to mention any of the multiple investigations which describe in detail all of the huge distortions produced by that “heavy editing”–including the false impression that James E. O’Keefe IIIvisited ACORN offices in the outlandish outfit of a pimp.
According to its own correction,the Times managed to leave that false impression in three separate articles on September 16, 2009 and September 19, 2009, and Jan 31, 2010–most egregiously, in Scott Shane’s humiliating wet-kiss profile of O’Keefe, in which he described O’Keefe’s work as “Candid Camera for the Internet age, a lethally effective political tool that Mr. O’Keefe has helped pioneer between college and graduate-school studies.”
Last spring, Times public editor Clark Hoyt wrote that the Acorn/O’Keefe story “became something of an orphan at the paper. At least 14 reporters, reporting to different sets of editors, have touched it since last fall. Nobody owns it. Bill Keller, the executive editor, said that, ‘sensing the story would not go away and would be part of a larger narrative,’ the paper should have assigned one reporter to be responsible for it.”
Update: This is reminiscent of Keller’s description of his lackadaisical attitude toward Judy Miller. In its own retrospective on the Miller disaster, The Times reported, “after questions were raised about the reliability of her reporting about Iraq. Mr. Keller told Ms. Miller that she could no longer cover Iraq and weapons issues. Even so, Mr. Keller said, ‘she kept kind of drifting on her own back into the national security realm.’”
Note to Bill: assigning one competent reporter to keep up with Breitbart’s exploits might also be a really good idea.
Like so many other articles in the MSM, today’s piece by Carr implies some kind of equivalency between Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow (“There have been times when it seemed that Rush Limbaugh was acting as de facto head of the Republican Party, as the Democrats picked up talking points from Rachel Maddow”) and Maddow and Glenn Beck (PolitiFact.com “truth-squads talking heads from Glenn Beck to Ms. Maddow.”)
Which overlooks the fact that Rachel Maddow’s opinions are based on serious reporting, while Limbaugh’s and Beck’s are usually paranoid fantasies based on nothing but their unchanging prejudices. Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann actually care whether something they say is true; Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck do not.
Question: Why is someone like Carr unwilling to make that simple fact clear to his readers?
Answer: Almost every MSM reporter lives in mortal fear of being branded a “liberal” by Fox–and Carr is no exception.
As former New York Times managing editor Arthur Gelb observed to FCP, “the established press’s treatment of Beck is not much different from the gingerly way the press at first treated Joe McCarthy – until at long last it managed to find the guts to wake up (even Murrow’s attack was too late!!). “
Gelb deals with this subject in some detail in his fine memoir of his life at the Times, City Room.
This is not substantially different from straight-facedly quoting a grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan on the origins of racism in America. And, just like Carr, Stelter refers to “heavily edited tapes that appeared to show counselors at the liberal community organizing group Acorn giving advice to an ostensible pimp and his prostitute about evading taxes and setting up a brothel” without giving a hint of exactly how many lies those “heavy edits” produced.
Stelter also reports that Fox did not cover the Sherrod video on Monday, although “Bill O’Reilly did call on her to resign;” that O’Reilly “apologized two nights later;” and that Shepard Smith asked “What in the world has happened to our industry and the White House?”
If you watched Rachel Maddow last Wednesday, you would know how Fox really covered this story: wall-to-wall character assassination of Shirley Sherrod all day Tuesday, followed by shock–shock!–that the White House had jumped to the conclusion that she had done anything wrong.
Winner:Mitch Albom of The Free Presswhose column should be studied by Carr and Stelter to remind them of all the basics of Journalism 101, which they seem to have forgotten. Albom recalls Breitbart’s description of Teddy Kennedy a few hours after his death: “a special pile of human excrement”–which once upon a time, long, long ago, would have disqualified him from being credulously quoted in any serious newspaper again.
Albom quotes Brietbart describing himself as “public enemy 1 or 2 to the Democratic party…based upon the successes my journalism has had.”
Then the columnist does the basic deconstruction which any competent journalist would automatically perform: There are several things wrong with that statement. First, I doubt he counts that much.
Second, his journalism? It’s not journalism if you look for only one point of view, post other people’s stuff and don’t even acknowledge how using chopped-up material to paint a full picture is wrong.
“Let me think about that,” was what Breitbart said, when asked whether he might have vetted the footage more carefully if given another chance.
Let me think about that?
Winner:James Rainey, of The Los Angeles Times, who describes
how enraged Breitbart became when Rainey demanded last year that he release the unedited ACORN tapes. (Question: did anyone at The New York Times ever make that request?)
Then Rainey makes this simple but crucial observation: “Many news outlets reported on the controversy and the video, most jumping in after Sherrod had resigned. But it was the select few — led by conservative bloggers and some segments of the Fox News empire — that embraced the attack from the start.”
And while a Fox news executive successfully spun Howard Kurtz by leaking him an e-mail urging caution in reporting on the Sherrod story, Rainey points out that hours after that e-mail was sent Monday afternoon, FoxNation.com’s headline read: “Caught on Tape: Obama Official Discriminates Against White Farmer.”
Winner: The indispensableE.J. Dionne, who gets right to the heart of the matter:
The smearing of Shirley Sherrod ought to be a turning point in American politics. This is not, as the now-trivialized phrase has it, a “teachable moment.” It is a time for action.
The mainstream media and the Obama administration must stop cowering before a right wing that has persistently forced its propaganda to be accepted as news by convincing traditional journalists that “fairness” requires treating extremist rants as “one side of the story.” And there can be no more shilly-shallying about the fact that racial backlash politics is becoming an important component of the campaign against President Obama and against progressives in this year’s election.
The administration’s response to the doctored video pushed by right-wing hit man Andrew Breitbart was shameful. The obsession with “protecting” the president turned out to be the least protective approach of all.
Let me make this utterly clear: What you see on Fox News, what you read on Right Wing websites, is the utter and complete perversion of journalism, and it can have no place in a civilized society. It is words crashed together, never to inform, only to inflame. It is a political guillotine. It is the manipulation of reality to make the racist seem benevolent, and to convict the benevolent as racist — even if her words must be edited, filleted, stripped of all context, rearranged, fabricated, and falsified, to do so.
What you see on Fox News, what you read on Right Wing websites… is a manipulation. Not just of a story, not just on behalf of a political philosophy. Manipulation of a society, its intentional redirection from reality and progress, to a paranoid delusion and the fomenting of hatred of Americans by Americans…The assassins of the Right have been enabled on the Left.
It has become fashionable to dismiss Keith Olbermann as an over-the-top ranter — or as the MSNBC host put it himself, “a mirror image of that which I assail.” But there was nothing over-the-top about his special comment about Shirley Sherrod. Every word he spoke was true. And the only thing that made his stance so remarkable is the abject failure of the mainstream media — especially this week — to accurately describe the source of the allegation against Sherrod, or to chronicle the long-term impact of the “complete perversion of journalism” practiced 365 days a year by Fox News (and the right-wing bloggers and radio hosts that make up the rest of this wackosphere).
The “enabling” Olbermann so accurately describes consists of a nonchalant attitude among most media swells toward Rupert Murodch’s main propaganda machine — “oh, that’s just Fox” — melded with an inculcation by these same writers of the main “value” informing almost every judgment made in America today: if it makes a lot of money, it must be a wonderful thing.
The perversion of journalism produced by the fusion of these two attitudes has led us directly to the perversion of society we witnessed this week, when a Democratic White House and the nation’s oldest civil rights organization both behaved in a precipitous, craven, and disgusting fashion, purely out of fear of how they would be treated by a band of vicious charlatans – men and women who are inexplicably treated by everyone from The New York Times to the Today Show as if they were actual journalists.
Here are some of the media choices, each of them chronicled by FCP over the last two years, that have pushed us to this terrible place.
* A gushing page-one profile of Glenn Beck in The New York Times by Brian Stelter and Bill Carter, which celebrated his impressive ratings soon after his arrival at Fox: “Mr. Beck presents himself as a revivalist in a troubled land…Mr. Beck’s emotions are never far from the surface. ‘That’s good dramatic television,’ said Phil Griffin, the president of a Fox rival, MSNBC. ‘That’s who Glenn Beck is.’”
* Time magazine’s decision to ask Glenn Beck to assess Rush Limbaugh’s importance in America for the 2009 Time 100: “His consistency, insight and honesty have earned him a level of trust with his listeners that politicians can only dream of.”
* A decision by the editors of washingtonpost.com to allow Beck to host a chat there
to promote one of his books.
* This hard-hitting assessment of Beck by Time magazine TV critic James Poniewozik, who gurgled on, “Sure, he may be selling a sensationalistic message of paranoia andsocial breakdown. But politics, or basic responsibility, aside, he has an entertainer’s sense of play with the medium of TV that O’Reilly, or perpetual sourpuss Neil Cavuto, don’t.” And why would anybody care about a basic sense of responsibility, anyway??
* A worshipful, 1,943 word profile of Fox News founder and president Roger Ailes by David Carr and Tim Arango on the front page of The New York Times — which included this perfectly amoral quote from David Gergen, a perfectly amoral man:
“Regardless of whether you like what he is doing, Roger Ailes is one of the most creative talents of his generation. He has built a media empire that is capable of driving the conversation, and, at times, the political process.” And what a wonderful conversation it is.
* And finally, the most sickening piece of all in this splendid cohort: David von Drehle’s obscenely sycophantic cover story about Beck for Time magazine, which told us that Beck is a “man with his ear uniquely tuned to the precise frequency at which anger, suspicion and the fear that no one’s listening all converge;” that he is “tireless, funny, [and]self-deprecating…a gifted storyteller with a knack for stitching seemingly unrelated data points into possible conspiracies — if he believed in conspiracies, which he doesn’t, necessarily; he’s just asking.”
In a rare and honorable exception to this parade of journalistic disasters, earlier this month Dana Milbank of The Washington Post did mention the role of Beck in the creation of the current climate of paranoia:
These sentiments have long existed on the fringe and always will. The problem is that conservative leaders and Republican politicians, in their blind rage against Obama these last 18 months, invited the epithets of the fringe into the mainstream…Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News since Obama’s inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obama – as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck’s nightly ‘report.’
But far worse than the kid-gloves treatment of Fox and its friends was the inexplicably benign approacht the MSM took toward Andrew Brietbart, the original source of the doctored video of Sherrod’s speech before the N.A.A.C.P. that started this whole sorry saga.
In The Washington Post, he was a “conservative activist and blogger”; in Sheryl Gay Stolberg’s story in the Times, he was “a blogger” who “similarly…used edited videos to go after ACORN, the community organizing group;” in The Wall Street Journal he was “a conservative Internet activist” who “argued that the Obama administration is insufficiently sensitive to bias against white people”; in The Los Angeles Times, “a conservative media entrepreneur” and to Associated Press television writer David Bauder a “conservative activist” whose website “attracted attention last year for airing video of workers at the community group ACORN counseling actors posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend.”
But to find out who Breitbart really is, you would have had to read (h/t Joe Stouter) Joe Conason in Salon, who, “recalling Breitbart from his days as eager lackey to Matt Drudge...warned from the beginning that nothing he produced would resemble journalism.”
Although there was not a hint of this in any of the stories I’ve quoted from above, O’Keefe’s ACORN story was actually a “‘scandal’ that became a national story only after wildly biased coverage on Fox News Channel, followed by sloppy, scared reporting in mainstream outlets, notably the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and the national TV networks (some of whom flagellated themselves for failing to publicize this canard sooner!)” as Conason put it. He continued
Investigations by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, California Attorney General Jerry Brown, and the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, among others, have served to exonerate ACORN of the most outrageous charges of criminality (while still criticizing ACORN employees and leadership). More important, from the perspective of journalistic ethics, those investigations revealed that the videotapes released and promoted by Breitbart’s website were selectively and deceptively edited to serve as propaganda, not news.”
The Harshbarger report, commissioned by ACORN’s own board of directors, pointed to signs of chicanery when it was released last December. Although O’Keefe, his associate and fake “prostitute” Hannah Giles and Breitbart all refused to speak with Harshbarger, his researchers at the Proskauer Rose law firm were able to make preliminary comparisons between audio and video files on the Big Government website…
Amazingly, the New York Times never covered the Harshbarger report and gave little or no coverage to the other deconstructions of the Big Government “scoop” by law enforcement. Last March, when Hoyt finally offered an excuse for the failure of the Times to adequately correct and explain the complex truth behind Breitbart’s ACORN scam, it sounded weak
The report by Harshbarger…was not covered by The Times. It should have been, but the Acorn/O’Keefe story became something of an orphan at the paper. At least 14 reporters, reporting to different sets of editors, have touched it since last fall. Nobody owns it. Bill Keller, the executive editor, said that, “sensing the story would not go away and would be part of a larger narrative,” the paper should have assigned one reporter to be responsible for it.”
So, having repeatedly blown the aftermath of the ACORN story, the Times compounded its error by giving its readers no hint whatsoever this week of Breitbart’s nefarious background.
The single most ridiculous story of the week was written by “media reporter” Howard Kurtz in The Washington Post. Howie–as only Howie could, being a man of limitless energy and no judgment–decided the most interesting angle of the Sherrod affair was Fox’s lack of responsibility in promoting it. “Ousted official Shirley Sherrod blamed Fox, but other outlets ran with story,” was the headline over Kurtz’s report.
Kurtz said this was true because Fox did not mention the story until after Sherrod had been forced to resign–and he reported that Fox Senior Vice President Michael Clemente had seen an e-mail to his staff which said: “Let’s take our time and get the facts straight on this story. Can we get confirmation and comments from Sherrod before going on-air. Let’s make sure we do this right.”
However, Clemente’s memorandum did not prevent Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity from convicting Sherrod of her alleged crime on both of their programs on Monday night, even though neither of them had reached Sherrod as Clemente had directed. And it didn’t prevent the wall-to-wall character assassination which the network engaged in all day Tuesday, until the full, exonerating version of the tape of Sherrod’s speech was finally made public by the NAACP Tuesday night. (As one wise FCP friend observed, “It’s great to know they do have standards–even if they never bother to observe them.”)
Kurtz’s piece prompted FCP to ask him, “Did you ask anyone at Fox why every program there ignored this e-mail from Clemente and ran the story into the ground all day Tuesday–before getting confirmation or comments from Sherrod?”
This was Kurtz’s reply:
My focus was on what if anything was reported before Shirley Sherrod resigned. Lots of media outlets, including CNN and MSNBC and a zillion Web sites, ran with the story on Tuesday once the Agriculture Department fired Sherrod. Fox may have done it with more frequency and more enthusiasm, but it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a story at all once the firing was confirmed.
Of course there was one small difference between Fox and CNN. While the conservative network spent thirty-six hours constantly repeating the false charge of racism against Sherrod, CNN actually tried to locate the truth about the allegation against her.
That allegation, by the way, was even more disgusting because of these facts: Shirley Sherrod’s father was murdered by white men who were never prosecuted for that crime. And as the indispensable Doug Ireland has pointed out, Sherrod’s husband, Charles Sherrod “was a real hero to many of us in the ’60s for his key role as a leader in SNCC in building an INTER-RACIAL civil rights movement. Charlie left SNCC when Stokely Carmichael took it over, expelled white folks, and adopted ‘black power’ as its ideology, in order to continue building a black-and-white movement in Georgia. The notion that Charlie’s wife could have been guilty of what’s being called ‘reverse racism’ against whites is therefore douibly ludicrous. Some of us who knew Charlie back when, however, haven’t forgotten his shining example.”
Thanks to Rick Sanchez’s intrepid producers, CNN tracked down the farmer Sherrod had supposedly discriminated against, because he was white, and learned that farmer revered Sherrod, because her efforts were the only thing which had prevented him from losing his farm twenty-five years ago. (Brietbart responded by attacking the “purported story of the farmer”–which is one more reason that Olbermann’s description of Breitbart is so accurate: “a pornographer of propaganda.”)
Since Kurtz has written laudatory profiles of Ari Fleischer, Rich Lowry, Bill Kristol and yes, even Sean Hannity, it was not a big surprise that The Washington Post reporter pointedly ignored Fox’s true role in the Sherrod affair.
For that you had to watch Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night, when she
pointed out that Fox’s hyping of the Sherrod story was just part of the same old pattern of exaggerating the sins of ACORN, hounding Van Jones out of office, and making the alleged harrassment of voters by two members of the New Black Panther Party into a story just slightly less significant than World War II.
All the network was doing, Rachel explained, was to continue the 40 year-old Southern Strategy of the Republican Party, which summarized this way
“Be afraid, white people. There’s a threat to take you over. The black people are coming for you…and you better band together to not surrender, to fight back.”
And it was because Fox has stoked these fears so effectively that the Obama White House and the NAACP behaved so badly n response to the latest ludicrous accusation against one of its appointees.
As David Ehrenstein pointed out in a comment on FCP’s previous post about Sherrod, “As you well know, Charlie, being that Rachel Maddow is liberal – and therefore “biased” in the eyes of the “Mainstrem Media” – her words are to be ignored. By contrast Conservatives (or more to the point in Breibart’s case fascists) are never to be ignored. Their every word and deed must be regarded with utmost seriousness. The situation is so bad that the offhand snark of a Conservative writer , Dave Weigel, comically dissing other Conservatives, cost him his job at” The Washington Post.
We leave the last word to Keith Olbermann, because he had the very best advice for the president:
…You must, at long last, Sir, come to terms with the fact that while you have spent these first 18 months and one day of your presidency bending over backwards for those others, they have spent this time insisting you are not actually president, or you are a communist, or you are bent on destroying whatever is starring this week in the paranoid fantasies churned out by Fox News and the farcical Breitbart.
If only for the arrogance of the irony - that this Crusade to prove you a foreign influence is led by an Australian named Murdoch and his sons who pretend to be British, and his second largest shareholder Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud of Saudi Arabia — you, Sir, must stand up to this attack on you, and on this nation. Their game-plan is transparent:
They can strand together all the forces of anti-black racism in this country, direct them at you and all for which you and this nation stand, and convince the great unwashed and unthinking out there that not only are they not racists, but you, you Barack Obama, and Van Jones, and Shirley Sherrod, you are the real racists, and so in opposing you they are not expressing the worst vestige of our past, but are actually standing up against it.
As you stay silent and neutral and everybody’s President, they are gradually convincing racists that they are civil rights leaders and you are Police Chief Bull Connor. And then some idiot at Fox news barks, and your people throw an honorable public servant under the nearest bus, just for the sake of ‘decisive action’ and the correct way to respond in this atmosphere.
Mr. President, please stop trying to act, every minute, like some noble, neutral figure, chairing a government of equal and dispassionate minds, and contemplative scholars.
It is a freaking war out here, and the imagined consensus you seek is years in the future, if ever it is to be re-discovered.
This false consensus has gotten us only the crucifixion of Van Jones, and a racist gold-shilling buffoon speaking from the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th Anniversary of Dr. King’s speech, and now it has gotten us Shirley Sherrod. And your answer is to note a “disservice” and an “injustice.”
Sir, get a copy of the Michael Douglas movie “The American President.” When you get to the line where he says “I was so busy keeping my job, I forgot to do my job” — hit the rewind button.
Update: Shirley Sherrod’s speech is an extraordinary American document from an extraordinary American. Read the full text here.
Correction: Although O’Reilly and Hannity convicted Sherrod of her non-existent crime on Monday night, and much of Fox’s coverage on Tuesday morning did the same thing, beginning with Fox & Friends, the network also aired a reported piece on Tuesday morning by James Rosen which included Sherrod’s version of the story, as well as the exculpatory part of Sherrod’s speech which had already run on another network. Rosen said that part of the speech “appeared to corroborate her claim that she was trying to unite her audience in racial tolerance.”