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.”
A completely discredited right-wing blogger posts an edited video which seems to convict a black Agriculture department official of racism. Fox News runs the distorted clip continuously on all of its shows Monday. Before giving Shirley Sherrod a chance to tell her side of the story, the Agriculture department demands and receives the resignation of the head of its rural development office in Georgia.
Sherrod said the final call came from Cheryl Cook, an undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture. White House officials, she said, told her to pull her car off the road and offer her resignation – because the controversy was “going to be on Glenn Beck tonight.”
No one with any sense would credit anything posted by the blogger in question, Andrew Breitbart, after multiple investigations have revealed that the ACORN videos he posted last year were heavily edited and completely misleading.
The fact that the Obama Administration jumped to fire its own official on the basis of evidence provided by Breitbart and exploited by Fox is as shameful as it is inexplicable.
Wednesday afternoon, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs apologized to Sherrod:
“Without a doubt, Miss Sherrod is owed an apology,” Gibbs said at his afternoon briefing. “I would do so on behalf of this administration.”
[Second Update: an hour after Politico reported that apology, Times White House Correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg hadn’t bothered to add that to her story either. Third Update: by 4:15 PM, it was finally in her story.]
In the edited version of the video, Sherrod appeared to say that she had not given her full support to a farmer facing foreclosure because he was white. What Breitbart left out were the facts that 1) this took place twenty-five years ago and 2) the full video makes it clear that after struggling with herself, Sherrod realized that the white farmer deserved just as much help as the black farmer.
By mid-day yesterday, Breitbart’s allegation had been completely discredited by CNN, after the white farmer in question, Roger Spooner, and his wife, Eloise, said that it was only because of Sherrod’s intervention that they had been able to hold on to their farm a quarter century ago.
Breitbart, the idiot right-wing blogger, responded to the CNN interview by attacking John King for accepting the farmer’s “purported story” and questioning whether Mrs. Spooner was really Mr. Spooners wife.
Instead, it never reported anything about what the farmer had said on television. Inexplicably, the story led this way: “The president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People apologized Tuesday to a black civil servant whose ouster the civil rights organization had originally cheered.”
It is true, of course, that the N.A.A.C.P. behaved as badly as the Obama administration by excoriating Sherrod before it had investigated the allegation against her. But it is also true that by far the most important news of the day was the fact that the farmer Sherrod had supposedly discriminated against was now describing her as a hero.
Wheaton also identified Andrew Breitbart as “a conservative blogger known for promoting videos that emerged last year and ultimately brought down ACORN, the community organizing group” – without mentioning that those videos had been completely discredited after it was revealed how Breitbart had edited them.
The person who owned the story last night was Rachel Maddow, who exposed Breitbart’s fraud, interviewed an embarrassed Benjamin T. Jealous, the head of the N.A.A.C.P.–and put the blame for the whole catastrophe squarely were it belonged:
This is what Fox News does, this is how they are different from other news organizations. This is why the White House argued months ago that Fox should be treated as a media organization but not as a normal news organization, because they don’t treat news the way a normal news organization treats news. Just like the fake ACORN controversy, Fox News knows that it has a role in this dance….
Fox does what Fox does, that is dog bites man, that is not interesting. What is interesting about this story is that the Obama administration inexplicably keeps falling for it…
Dear White House, dear administration: believing conservative spin about what’s so wrong with you and then giving into that spin is not an effective defense against that spin. Just buying it and apologizing for it, and doing whatever they want you to do doesn’t make the problem of them lying about you go away. In fact, it makes it worse…
The huge tide of negative publicity that followed these video tapes and the coverage they got on Fox wall-to-wall was a dishonest political stunt that bears no resemblance to journalism and no resemblance to the actual facts of what happened. But it worked. Means be damned, in the end it worked.
Partly because of Maddow’s show, by the middle of last night the White House had realized how badly it had behaved, and just after 2 A.M. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack issued a statement saying he was reconsidering Sherrod’s firing. On the morning chat shows, Sherrod said she wasn’t sure if she would take her job back if it were offered to her.
Vilsack’s statment was reported in an e-mail alert from Politico’s Mike Allen at 7:03 this morning:
BULLETIN – Yielding to a late-night phone call from the White House, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack reversed himself early today and said he will reconsider the abrupt firing of Shirley Sherrod, a Georgia-based Agriculture Department official who was the victim of a media frenzy over comments that turned out to have been distorted by video editing.
[Update: an even earlier alert was sent out by Politico at 4:21 A.M.]
It was on the Washington Post’s website by 9:07 and the Wall Street Journal’s at 9:18–but as of 11 o’clock this morning, The New York Times had still reported nothing about Vilsack’s reversal. After multiple e-mails from FCP to Times reporter Wheaton, and Times national editor Rick Berke, inquiring about this omission, the paper’s Washington Bureau finally woke up at 11:59 A.M., and posted a new lead on Wheaton’s story:
“The White House intervened late Tuesday night in a racially-tinged dispute that prompted Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to fire a black civil servant, and Mr. Vilsack is now reconsidering his decision.”
But more than twenty-fours after the farmer had been on CNN to repudiate the central allegation, the Times still failed to include that fact in its updated story. Wheaton did not respond to an e-mail asking whether she had omitted the farmer’s comments because she didn’t know about them or because she didn’t think they belonged in her story.
Where in this article does it say that Brietbart [sic] severely edited a video to change a woman’s story from one about overcoming personal prejudice through personal experience, to one that brags about acting in a prejudicial fashion? You missed the story. It’s not about the NAACP. It’s about Brietbart’s [sic] manipulations.
And another reader added,
Poor reporting. You don’t connect the dots between the highly edited video circulated by the teabaggers, the “conclusions” of racism announced by Fox “News”, and Vilsack’s decision to fire Sherrod. This was an orchestrated, racebaiting smear job designed to dupe millions, raise the overall fear and hate quotient, make white people feel victimized and resentful, and destroy a decent person’s life. You don’t report how the farmer in question came out against the Fox story yesterday…
The article in The Washington Post by Karen Tumulty and Krissah Thompson at least managed to include the essential facts that the Times had omitted – but its lead was just as off-base as the one in the Times:
A fuzzy video of a racially themed speech that prompted the ouster this week of an Agriculture Department official has opened a new front in the ongoing war between the left and right over which side is at fault for stoking persistent forces of racism in politics.
What that “fuzzy video” actually proved was that the Obama administration was so intimidated by a disgraced blogger and a completely dishonest television network that it jumped to fire a wholly innocent employee, without bothering to investigate any of the idiotic allegations against her.
And what the whole mess proved was that Rachel Maddow is frequently more thorough, more intelligent, more sophisticated, and more reliable than all of her competitors in the mainstream media put together.
CORRECTION: It is not true that Fox ran the distorted Sherrod clip on all of its shows Monday. The first two references to the Sherrod story on Fox were in the evening, on the Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity shows. By the time they aired, she had resigned. Both of them did, however, convict her of her alleged crime before they had gotten her side of the story–even though an e-mail from a Fox executive earlier in the day had specifically counselled caution before convicting her on air.
Hannity reported Monday night, “This is a FOX News alert: an Obama administration official resigned just a short time ago after a she was caught on tape appearing to tell an audience that she had used her position to racially discriminate against white farmers.”
FoxNews.com also reported the story Monday night, saying “The clip adds to the firestorm of debate over the NAACP’s decision to approve a resolution at its convention last week accusing some Tea Party activists of racism – a charge Tea Party leaders deny.”
Tuesday morning on Fox and Friends the story was treated this way:
UNIDENTIFIEDFEMALE: This is outrageous. I mean, it‘s outrageous.
And perhaps everybody needs a refresher course of what racism looks like.
I mean, that is - DOOCY: Exhibit A. UNIDENTIFIEDFEMALE: Exhibit A - to do it so publicly as though she‘s proud of her actions. DOOCY: Right
At 9 A.M. Tuesday, a reported piece on Fox by James Rosen did include Sherrod’s version of the story, as well as the exculpatory part of Sherrod’s speech which had already run on another network, which Rosen said “appeared to corroborate her claim that she was trying to unite her audience in racial tolerance.” The same piece said Sherrod would be appearing on Fox 90 minutes later, but that never happened, apparently because Sherrod decided not to do an interview there.
FCP regrets the errror.
July 18, 2010
Time to Go for the Jugular
Above the Fold
I don’t think the losses are going to be bad at all. I think we’re going to shock the heck out of everybody.
– Vice President Joe Biden, July 18, 2010
The Act was passed by Democratic votes but it was over the opposition of the Republican leaders. And just to name a few, the following Republican leaders, among many others, voted against the Act: Senators McNary, Vandenberg, Nye and Johnson; now wait, a perfectly beautiful rhythm — Congressmen Martin, Barton and Fish.
– Franklin Delano Roosevelt, October 28, 1940
Martin, Barton and Fish became the punchline of FDR’s stump speech in the fall of 1940, when he cruised to victory over Wendell Willkie to win an unprecedented third term as president. Joseph Martin, Jr., Bruce Barton and Hamilton Fish were intractable Republican obstructionists – just like our own Mitch McConnell, Joe Barton and John Boehner. If Joe Biden’s predication is going to come true, Barack Obama needs to find a way to sound a lot more like FDR.
In fact there are signs that the inspirational Obama of the 2008 campaign is finally stirring again. Earlier this month, he did take a page from FDR’s speech book – although Obama’s version didn’t quite match the punch of Roosevelt’s: “Barton and Boehner and Blunt,” said the president, including Congressman Roy Blunt, the Republican Senate candidate in Missouri. “Sometimes I wonder if that ‘no’ button is just stuck in Congress so they can’t do what’s right for the American people.” And yesterday he gave an effective speech in the Rose Garden, attacking Republicans for repeatedly blocking an extension of unemployment benefits. That battle was finally won Tuesday afternoon – right after Carte Goodwin was sworn in as the new Democratic senator from West Virginia, giving the Demcorats the 60 votes they needed to end a Republican filibuster.
The unchanging unemployment number is the big gun pointed at the head of every Democrat this fall, and the still-sluggish economy is what Republican candidates will use to continuously beat up on their opponents.
The blatant embrace of BP by the Republicans – Barton was “embarrassed” by the $20 billion squeezed out of the oil giant by the president – should give the Democrats an opening, as well as the broader Republican promise to repeal financial reform, since it’s so unfair to beat up on the industry that drove the company’s economy off a cliff to begin with. Barton’s gaffe (and the Republicans who echoed him) is the subject of an effective web ad quickly produced by the Democratic National Committee.
But Democratic spokesmen will have to be much more convincing than Rahm Emanuel was duringan appearance on the NewsHour, where here he got bogged down bragging about the 50 workers whose employment was made possible by a federal grant to a Michigan company that will make alternative batteries for trucks. And White House spokesman Robert Gibbs wasted several news cycles by acknowledging the obvious – that it is possible that the Republicans will retake the House in the fall. Clearly, Joe Biden had learned from Gibbs’s mistake before he made his Sunday chat show appearance a couple of days ago.
The problem the Democrats face is the same one they’ve faced in almost every election cycle in the last 40 years – except for 2008. Most of the visible energy (which the media is obsessed with) is once again coming from the right, this time from the multiple organizations making up the Tea Party movement.
While liberals are understandably wringing their hands over various Obama disappointments – the absence of a public option in health care reform, the idiotic surge in Afghanistan, and the continuation of several of the Bush administration’s more heinous anti-terrorist policies – they tend to forget one essential fact: most of us are not likely to see a more liberal president or a more progressive Congress in our own lifetimes.
It will be catastrophic for the country if the Republicans re-take either chamber in Washington. And, despite everything you may have read to the contrary, the odds are still against that happening. For example, a Wall Street Journal piece this week trumpeted the fact that “Democrats for the first time are acknowledging that Republicans could retake the Senate this November.” But then it went on to describe all the reasons that outcome is unlikely, including the fact that Republicans would have to prevail in California, Wisconsin and Washington to win control of the upper house.
The key factor for Democrats will be the willingness of all the under-30 voters who voted for Obama two years ago to make the enormous effort of voting for progressives for two election cycles in a row. To try to make that happen, the Democratic National Committee is spending $50 million to go after those newer voters. “Much about its ‘Vote 2010’ effort has that way-back feel of two years ago,” The Washington Post reported. “Legions of canvassers going door-to-door, a stream of inspirational videos, an e-mail list of more than 13 million, and ads on Web sites including Latina.com, BlackPlanet.com, YELP.com and DailyCandy.”
There will also be a massive new program to register college students, many of whom voted for the first time for Obama when they were still in high school.
MSNBC’s political experts listed these additional reasons for Democratic optimism:
* Unlike 1994, the Republican Party has a favorable/unfavorable score that’s no better (and sometimes even worse) than the Democrats.
* The GOP isn’t running on new ideas – or any ideas really, except for deficit reduction, which they say they will achieve through more tax cuts!
* The National Republican Congressional Committee has a huge financial disadvantage compared with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
* Winning 39 seats is a very tall order. When Democrats won back the House in 2006, during the height of violence in Iraq and after Hurricane Katrina – they picked up 30 House seats. The GOP will need almost 10 more than that.
And then there are those special gifts to the Democrats from the Tea Party, like wacko Sharron Angle in Nevada and Rand Paul in Kentucky, both of whom have sharply improved the chances of the Democrats in those races.
But in order to convince voters how disastrous it would be to return power to those who “drove us into the ditch” in the first place, the Democrats will have to sound more like FDR and less like Jimmy Carter.
Republicans go for the jugular all the time, using lies ranging from Democratic plans for “death panels” to Obama’s desire to confiscate guns across the nation.
Now the Democrats must go for the jugular – and all they need to do is to tell the truth.
July 10, 2010
Winners & Sinners
Winners: Neal Desai, Andre Pineda, Majken Runquist, Mark Fusunyan, Katy Glenn, Gabrielle Gould, Michelle Katz, Henry Lichtblau, Maggie Morgan, Sophia Wen and Sandy Wong, for authoring the most important journalistic study of the decade for Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. These Harvard students demonstrated that from 1930 to 2004, the leading American newspapers which had written about waterboarding “almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied that it was torture…By contrast, from 2002-2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterbaording as torture. The New York Times called waterboarding torture or implied that it was torture in just 2 of 143 [news] articles. The Los Angeles Times did so in 4.8 percent of articles…The Wall Street Journal characterized the practice as torture in just 1 of 63 articles…USA Todaynever called waterboarding torture or implied it was torture.”
What was the only significant difference between the period before 2004 and after 2004? In the earlier period, none of the countries torturing people this way was the United States.
Responding to the study’s criticism,
SinnerBill Keller clearly implied that the failure of the Times to call torture by its proper name was a result of the assertions of “senior officials of the Bush administration,” that waterboarding did not constitute torture.
Then the executive editor of the Times displayed a complete misunderstanding of what his newspaper had actually done: “When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves,” Mr. Keller wrote. “Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and human rights advocates as a form of torture. Nobody reading the Times’s coverage could be ignorant of the extent of the practice (much of that from information we broke) or mistake it for something benign (we usually use the word ‘brutal.’)”
What Keller neglected to point out is, not “using a word” also “amounts to taking sides in a political dispute”–and the only reason the Times changed a seventy-year old practice of accurately describing waterboarding as the torture which it is, was the stream of lies coming from George Bush and his aides on this subject.
The Times standards editor, Phil Corbett, wrote, “In general, when writing about disputed, contentious and politically loaded topics, we try to be precise, accurate and as neutral as possible; factual descriptions are often better than shorthand labels”–and that, of course, is exactly what the newspaper failed to do. The only precise and accurate term for waterboarding is torture. The only reason the Bush administration perpetuated the lie that it wasn’t was its eagerness to avoid prosecution for engaging in a practice which is a war crime. And by fulsomely accomodating the administration’s lie, the Times made a significant contribution to the success of that strategy.
In a particularly pathetic column last year, former Times public editor Clark Hoyt endorsed the decision of the news department to parrot the Bush administration’s lies.
The only part of the Times which retained its honor on this subject was the editorial page, which routinely calls waterboarding torture–without ever putting the word inside quotation marks.
As I discovered in studying the paper’s reporting over a period of year, when a neighbor plays his stereo too loudly in the apartment next door, that is “torture.” But when a man is stripped of his clothing, chained to the floor in a short-shackle position, subjected to sleep deprivation and alternating cold and heat, and left to writhe in his own feces and urine—that, in the world of the Times, is just an “enhanced interrogation technique.”
Winner:Rick Anderson, for a brilliant 4,000 word investigative piece
in the Seattle Weekly about the multiple (and often illegal) efforts of a wide variety of government agencies to place spies among protesters all across America.
Sinner:Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt, for printing yet another fact-free op-ed piece, this one by Mitt Romney, explaining the “reasons” why President Obama’s newSTART Treaty with Russia “could be his worst foreign policy mistake yet.” The column was so full of misleading statements and outright falsehoods that
Winner Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took the highly unusual step of issuing a point-by-point rebuttal of Romney’s drivel. Excerpts:
* Governor Mitt Romney’s hyperbolic attack on the New START Treaty in the July 6 edition of The Washington Post repeats discredited objections and appears unaware of arms control history and context.
* He cites non-binding preambular language that requires no restriction on missile defense and cannot be used to enforce an obligation under the Treaty. He also complains about a prohibition on converting ICBM silos to missile defense purposes, but fails to acknowledge that such a conversion is not part of our plans. Lt. General Patrick O’Reilly, Director of the Missile Defense Agency, testified that converting silos would be “a major setback to the development of our missile defenses” given the high cost of redesigning existing interceptors and associated systems.
* Governor Romney offers additional treaty misreadings and myths that have been refuted explicitly in Congressional hearings. The Bilateral Consultative Commission has no power to “amend the treaty with specific reference to missile defense,” as he contends. In fact, the Commission cannot change anything in the treaty text or make changes that “affect substantive rights or obligations under this Treaty.”
* Rejecting the Treaty would guarantee that no agreement on tactical nukes would occur. It also would mean giving up our human verification presence in Russia that has contributed greatly to strategic stability under the expired START I Treaty. Having inspectors on the ground in Russia has meant that we have not had to wonder about the make-up of Russian strategic forces. New START would strengthen our non-proliferation diplomacy worldwide, limit potential arms competition, and help us focus our defense resources effectively.
Winners:T. Christian Miller and Daniel Zwerdling for an in-depth investigation on NPRof the difficulties soldiers have encountered in obtaining proper treatment for traumatic brain injuries. The story, a joint effort with ProPublica, may have contributed to the decision by Veterans Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
reported by the Times this week, “that will make it substantially easier for veterans who have been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder to receive disability benefits, a change that could affect hundreds of thousands of veterans from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam.”
Sinner:Diane Sawyer, for suggesting the most offensive survey on any non-Fox television network in memory:
We want to know what you think: “Should Moslems be allowed to build their mosques in neighborhoods of their chosing?”
And coming up next, should Puerto Ricans be allowed to lower your property values?
Should the Irish be allowed to vote? I’m Diane Sawyer, ABC News, we’ll be right back.
Winner:Patrck Arden, for a superb investigation in Next American City magazine of the growing disparities between publicly- and privately financed parks in New York City.
Arden’s bottom line:
Public-private partnerships are widely touted as the new model for cities to build and maintain parkland, but they’re old news in New York. The Central Park Conservancy, founded in 1980, has inspired similar groups in cities from Atlanta to San Francisco. Yet even in a time of leaner government budgets, a cautionary tale can be found in New York’s 36-year experience of putting public parks into private hands. The city says private investment allows it to target limited taxpayer resources to the parks most in need, creating what parks commissioner Adrian Benepe has repeatedly hailed as a “Golden Age for Parks.” But others see a Gilded Age instead, an echo of Conkling’s era in the reign of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with wide — and growing — disparities between lavish, showplace parks for the haves and cast-off parcels for the have-nots. For every Madison Square, Bryant Park or High Line, there are hundreds of parks that depend solely on the city, and many suffer from scandalous neglect.
Sinner:CNN, for bowing to another outrageous right-wing campaign to fire its Middle East editor, Octavia Nasr, after she posted a note on Twitter expressing admiration for Lebanon’s Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlalla. As Nasr subsequently explained on her own blog,
It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I’m sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah’s life’s work. That’s not the case at all.
Here’s what I should have conveyed more fully:
I used the words “respect” and “sad” because to me as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman’s rights. He called for the abolition of the tribal system of “honor killing.” He called the practice primitive and non-productive. He warned Muslim men that abuse of women was against Islam…
The far greater error in judgement: CNN’s decision to fire her.
July 2, 2010
Hastings v. the MSM
Above the Fold
Was Michael Hastings’ superb piece about General Stanley McChrystal an indictment of the way the mainstream media had covered the general before that?
This could only be treated as a serious question by the many sages living inside the beltway. To every serious person living everywhere else, the answer was stunningly obvious: Hastings hadn’t indicted his MSM colleagues–he had humiliated them.
As FCP first pointed out last October, virtually every profile of McChrystal had either sharply downplayed the defects in his CV or ignored them altogether, including the general’s central role in the cover up of the killing of former football star Pat Tillman by friendly fire.
Asked about this by the Senate Armed Services Committee, McChrystal said that those involved with the Tillman cover-up “just didn’t line things up right,” adding that “it was not intentional…I didn’t see any activities by anyone to deceive.”
Pat Tillman’s father violently disagreed:
The Army reported that information ‘was slow to make it back to the United States.’ To the contrary, the information was sent almost immediately, but there was one set of ‘facts’ for the military and another for my family. As to the military’s claim that it kept the family informed, I was briefed three times with a sales pitch of made-up “facts” and assurances of investigative integrity. With respect to the Army’s reference to ‘mistakes in reporting the circumstances of [my son’s] death’: those ‘mistakes’ were deliberate, calculated, ordered (repeatedly) and disgraceful – conduct well beneath the standard to which every soldier in the field is held. I have absolute respect and admiration for Army Rangers acting as such. As to their superior officers, the West Point-Army honor code is: ‘I will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do.’ They should reissue the booklet.
Then there was the problem of the involvement of McChrystal’s troops in torture on a base outside Baghdad, which was festooned with signs reading reading “NOBLOOD, NOFOUL,” which the Times reported were supposed to mean, “If you don’t make them bleed, they can’t prosecute for it”–and where officers routinely wore no nameplates, just in case some over-zealous prosecutor tried to identify them later on.
But when McChrystal was chosen to be the new commander in Afghanistan, the Times ran a worshipful profile of him, describing the Tillman incident as “one blot on his otherwise impressive military record”–and then made no mention at all of the involvement of McChrystal’s men in torture.
On the other hand, it did quote a retired general who said that the new commander was “lanky, smart, tough, a sneaky stealth soldier” who has “all the Special Ops attributes, plus an intellect.”
Subsequently, the normally excellent Dexter Filkins did another puff piece about the general in The New York Times Magazine, in which he so sharply downplayed the Tillman incident and the involvement of the general’s troops in torture that FCP wrote him a lengthy e-mail querying him about all the things he had left out of his article to make the General look better.
Filkins never replied.
And just two weeks after that, David Martin did a 12 minute and 43 second profile of the general for 60 Minutes, which did not include a single sentence of criticism–much less a mention of Tillman or torture. Martin did, however, make these hard-hitting observations:
* In another life he could have been a monk.
* It’s hard to keep pace with McChrystal as he races through his marathon days.
* He is perhaps this country’s most battle-hardened general and a one-of-a-kind commander.
The problem is that nearly all of these pieces are written by reporters on the Pentagon beat, who know from experience that anything resembling a tough article can make it a great deal more difficult for them to do their job in the future, if their Pentagon sources decide to stop talking to them.
David Martin is a parody of this problem. According to his official CBS biography, Martin has been covering “defense and intelligence matters” continuously for thirty-three years–first for Newsweek and then, for the last twenty-seven years, for CBS News.
Is it possible for a reporter on the same beat for more than three decades to remain tough or even objective about the people he is supposed to be covering?
No, it is not.
But the mindset of Martin and his fellow Washington reporters was captured perfectly by the truly outlandish comments of his CBS colleague, Lara Logan, and Howard Kurtz, on CNN’s Reliable Sources last Sunday.
First Kurtz peppered Michael Hastings with brilliant queries like this one:
“When you are there that much, you don’t think it’s likely that McChrystal and his team assume that some of their joking, that some of their banter would be treated by you as off the record?”
To which Hastings quite logically replied,
“It’s not much of a mystery. If someone tells you something is off the record, I don’t print it. If they don’t tell me something is on the record, then it’s fair game.”
Hastings added that McChrystal had been “the subject of a series of glowing profiles… And that was a game that General McChrystal’s team played very well, that if you write us a good story, we’ll give you good access.”
Then Kurtz sat down with Lara Logan to explain how real Washington reporters conduct their craft:
Kurtz: When you are out with the troops and you’re living together and sleeping together, is there an unspoken agreement –
Kurtz: – that you’re not going to embarrass them by reporting insults and banter?
Logan then proceeded to say that she was shocked–shocked!–that Hastings had engaged in the most fundamental part of a reporter’s craft: trying to ingratiate himself so that his subject might let his guard down and actually say something interesting or newsworthy:
And what I find is the most telling thing about what Michael Hastings said in your interview is that he talked about his manner as pretending to build an illusion of trust and, you know, he’s laid out there what his game is. That is exactly the kind of damaging type of attitude that makes it difficult for reporters who are genuine about what they do.
That may be the most idiotic comment about journalism FCP has ever heard. Matt Taibbi felt exactly the same way: read his tirade against Logan and Kurtz here.
Kurtz, of course, has for many years been the most corrupt reporter in Washginton, covering the press for The Washington Post, and simultaneously collecting a hefty paycheck from Time-Warner, the owner of a large chunk of his beat. As FCP has asked many times before, would The Washington Post allow its Detroit correspondent to be a paid employee of General Motors?
No, it would not.
Then there was Martha Raddatz, the pentagon flak who masquerades as a Washington reporter for ABC, who, on the same night the Hastings story broke, composed yet another deep, wet kiss for McChrystal to run on World News. “Few journalists have watched General McChrystal as closely as you,” Diane Sawyer gushed to Raddatz.
““If there is one word used most often to describe General McChrystal it is ‘discipline,’” Raddatz said in her piece. “So it is baffling that he and his top aides would be so open with Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings.”
Martha Raddatz offers yet another puff piece of the general
Of course it isn’t baffling at all–and it is the one thing about the mainstream media for which Hastings should be genuinely grateful. It was precisely because the General had successfully seduced everyone from Dexter Filkins to David Martin that it never occurred to him that a reporter might exist who would approach his record differently.
That’s why it was so easy for Hastings to get him and his aides to say so many indiscreet things about their bosses and their colleagues.
What mattered most was whether people could overcome their flaws and do their duty as soldiers, politicians and public servants. Reporters suppressed private information and reported mostly — and maybe too gently — on public duties.
But now we have what Brooks identified as “the culture of exposure”:
By putting the kvetching in the magazine, the reporter essentially took run-of-the-mill complaining and turned it into a direct challenge to presidential authority. He took a successful general and made it impossible for President Obama to retain him. The reticent ethos had its flaws. But the exposure ethos, with its relentless emphasis on destroying privacy and exposing impurities, has chased good people from public life, undermined public faith in institutions and elevated the trivial over the important.
This, of course, is absolute horseshit. Brooks is conflating the media’s unfortunate obsession with the sex lives of public officials (which FCP also abhors) with a series of comments that represent an unmistakable challenge to civilian control of the military. So while it is true that there is no hard evidence that all of our best presidents never cheated on their wives, it also true that our democracy depends on the willingness of every president to fire every general who makes the kind of incendiary remarks that McChrystal made.
Finally, we come to Michael O’Hanlon, the most reliable cheerleader for war in all of the Nation’s Capital–and, together with the president of Afghanistan, and his distinguished brother, one of only three public figures who argued fiercely for keeping McChrystal in his job after his obvious insubordination.
Writing in the Washington Post, O’Hanlon cleverly recited all of America’s recent failures in Afghanistan–and then used them, abra kadabra, to show that we’re really winning there!
This column reinforced O’Hanlon’s claim to becoming the modern version of Jack Crabb, the Indian scout played by Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, Arthur Penn’s iconic anti-war movie of 1970.
Crabb is determined to see General George Armstrong Custer massacred by the Indians. So when the general idiotically asks for Crabb’s advice about whether to advance into the gigantic trap the Sioux and the Cheyenne have set for him, Crabb famously advises,
“You go down there, General!”
Then Custer, his two brothers, a nephew and 264 others were massacred by the Indians.
All those still following O’Hanlon’s advice are guaranteed a comparable outcome.
Once again, we leave the last word to Jon Stewart, America’s premier press critic: