Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

Winners & Sinners: From Egypt to Mississippi


Elizabeth Palmer of CBS News



Kate Ellis, Stephen Smith, Filmmakers Brent and Craig Renaud


Winner: Elizabeth Palmer, a CBS News correspondent of the old school, who provided calm, thorough and fascinating reports from Egypt every night on Katie Couric’s evening news.

Winners: Kate Ellis and Stephen Smith, for a superb documentary for American RadioWorks with many fascinating details about how Mississippi whites organized to resist segregation throughout the early 1960’s.  A splendid example of bringing history to life through sound, with intelligence and care.

Sinner: New York Times reporter Jeremy Peters, for a woefully inadequate piece about reader dissatisfaction with a shrunken Los Angles Times.  Peters got a “no comment” from the Times publisher.  Then he didn’t bother to include a single quote from a current editor or reporter for the newspaper.  FCP asked Times Executive Editor Bill Keller, “How would you feel if the LA Times did a story about the decline of the NYT by talking to half a dozen random readers, a couple of ex-staffers, got a ‘no comment’ from Arthur — and then failed to include a single comment from a current NYT editor or reporter?

That’s what Jeremy Peters did today to the LA Times.  Does this meet current NYT standards for fairness and thoroughness?”

Keller acknowledged receipt of the e-mail but did not reply to it.

Winner: Sandy Hausman, for an in-depth look, for Virginia Public Radio, into the completely counterproductive anti-gang policy of Virginia’s Attorney General.

Winners: Brent and Craig Renaud and Dave Rummel for a personal and powerful ten-minute video about the continuing, devastating effects of the earthquake in Haiti.

Sinners: The law firm of Hunton & Williams and the security firm of HBGary, for promoting a bizarre scheme to undermine the allies of WikiLeaks, partly by submitting fake documents to WikiLeaks, and partly by threatening its supporters, including Glenn Greenwald.  Hunton & Williams represents Bank of America, and HBGary proposed these clever ideas to the law firm after rumors circulated that WikiLeaks was about to release a deeply damaging set of documents about America’s largest bank.

Another set of documents proposed similar ways to embarrass adversaries of the Chamber of Commerce for an initial fee of $200,000 and $2 million later.

Winners: Eric Lipton and Charlie Savage, two of the finest reporters in the Washington bureau of The New York Times, who did a fine job of unraveling this mess.





Winners & Sinners: Egyptian Edition

Diane Sawyer on top of Egypt


Brian Williams and Lester Holt in Egypt


Jane Mayer and Steve Coll of the New Yorker     

    As Facebook and Twitter (with an apparently significant assist from Al Jazeera) prepared to claim their latest scalp of a head of state–Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak–the world’s media descended en masse on Cairo, just as thousands of foreigners were streaming out of the airport in the opposite direction.

    NBC’s Brian Williams was the first American network anchor on the scene, but the evening news broadcast to watch last night was definitely the one on CBS.   CBS Evening News executive producer Rick Kaplan showed that he still knows twice as much as his competitors about how to cover a huge breaking news story.  So while Katie Couric arrived in Egypt a day later than Brian, the  CBS broadcast last night–subbed by Harry Smith–included stories that were vastly superior to the very ordinary ones done by Richard Engel and his colleagues at NBC.

    Veteran CBS foreign correspondent Elisabeth Palmer did an especially sophisticated and thorough summary at the top of the broadcast, followed by an equally good sidebar by Mark Strassmann about when the Egyptian police force first disappeared from the streets of Cairo, before slowly returning to select Cairo neighborhoods.

    Over at ABC News, since Diane Sawyer hadn’t managed to cross the ocean to reach the exploding scene, she tried to compensate by standing on Egypt, in the center of a vast floor map of North Africa and the Middle East.  ABC’s Martha Raddatz, who seems to alternate between flaking for the Pentagon and the C.I.A., continued her rapturous account of Egypt’s vital role in the war on terror, but last night she came a little closer to explaining to what that actually meant: “capturing and brutally interrogating suspects”–i.e., torturing them–often on behalf of the CIA, which made Egyptian prisons one of its favorite destinations for victims of American rendition.

    But to understand just how effective this cooperation was, once again it was necessary to turn to the indispensable Jane Mayer, who did a post at
 which made all of the important points which most of her competitors left out of their reports.  Among Mayer’s crucial details:

* Newly chosen Egyptian vice president Omar Suleiman  is actually not so new to anyone who has followed the American policy of renditions for terror suspects

* In fact, he was the C.I.A.’s point man in Egypt for American renditions.

*Technically, U.S. law required the C.I.A. to seek “assurances” from Egypt that rendered suspects wouldn’t face torture. But under Suleiman’s reign at the intelligence service, such assurances were considered close to worthless.

* As Ron Suskind recounts in the The One Percent Doctrine,  Suleiman was the C.I.A.’s liaison for the rendition of an Al Qaeda suspect known as Ibn Sheikh al-Libi.   It was al-Libi who was then tortured by the Egyptians into giving false information that Saddam Hussein wanted to give biological weapons to  Al Qaeda–a fantasy which then found its way into Colin Powell’s notorious U.N. speech explaining why the United States felt compelled to invade Iraq.

* Several years later, however, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq turned up no such weapons of mass destruction, or ties between Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, Libi recanted. When the F.B.I. later asked him why he had lied, he blamed the brutality of the Egyptian intelligence service.

    Which demonstrates once again why Dick Cheney thought torture was so indispensable for the production of the information he needed–even (or especially) when it was entirely false. (h/t Syd Schanberg.)

    Steve Coll was also ahead of the curve in his post for the New Yorker  , when he wrote that Egyptian generals “may conclude that patriotism and justice require them now to switch sides, to stand with the population, which they are, after all, sworn to defend”–which now seems to be exactly what they’re doing, at least so far.

    Jon Lee Anderson offered a concise and useful history of American involvement in Egypt, beginning with our support of the coup which brought  Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in 1952.  “In the end,” Anderson writes, “our serial monogamy with Egypt’s dictators, and the money we have given them—reportedly, sixty-eight billion dollars in all—bought us their loyalty, and years of borrowed time”–partly in the form of a very important thirty-year old peace with Israel.  “That time appears to have run out. In the days to come, it will become clearer whether our money has also bought us the loyalties of ordinary Egyptians, or whether, once again, we will have to pack up and leave.”

    Finally, The New Yorker’s Wendell Steavenson had a lovely on-scener from Tahrir Square:

    “It feels like a preëmptive celebration. People hugged each other—“Congratulations!”—sang the national anthem; punched the air shouting, “Viva Egypt!” Chants rose and fell. They had been singing, “The people want the fall of the regime,” since last Tuesday. Also popular is the blunt exultation, “Leave!”

    Meanwhile, the 1.6 million most-committed-American-news-junkies (including the ones in the White House) turned to Al Jazeera English’s live feed  on the internet, for the most exciting wall-to-wall coverage of all.


Au Revoir to Mr. Olbermann


Keith Olbermann says good-bye on Friday night

Above the Fold

    Love him or loathe him, you have to give Keith Olbermann credit: he did more to re-balance the ideology of cable news than anyone else ever did.

    Olbermann’s success was entirely responsible for MSNBC’s decision to re-brand itself as the liberal alternative to Fox.   Before Olbermann landed there eight years ago, the network had never had any discernible identity, or consistent prime time success.

    Until Olbermann started drawing in new viewers at 8 PM, starting at a couple of hundred thousand, building to 726,000 by 2007, and toping out at more than a million, no cable network had discovered that a champion of progressive ideas could be nearly as profitable as a Bill O’Reilly or a Glenn Beck.

    In stark contract to those two serial prevaricators, Olbermann brought a keen intelligence and genuine intellectual honesty to his program.  Anyone who thinks that he and Rachel Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell are “just the liberal version of Fox” either have never watched Roger Ailes’ network, or don’t know the difference between intelligent commentary and pure propaganda.

      No  one doubts that both Maddow and O’Donnell owe their current shows to Olbermann, not only because of his successful example, but also because they were his frequent guests and/or guest hosts.

      When O’Donnell assumed Olbermann’s slot this week–what he called “the most successful hour in MSNBC history”–he said, “I am here thanks entirely to Keith.” 

    That same night Rachel Maddow praised Olbermann for “clearing the space” for liberals to be liberals on television, by “not only voicing his own opinion but by being really freaking successful while he did it.  If you want to be a pioneer, don’t just be the first person like you to do something, be the first person like you to do it brilliantly. That’s how you change the world, so others like you get chances too.”

    To some Olbermann’s bombastic special comments made him look and sound too much like fictional anchorman Ted Baxter, but they were always full of unvarnished truths–especially when he described the right-wing’s attack on Shirley Sherrod:

        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.

    As I wrote then,  “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 … 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).”

    When Ted Koppel attacked Olbermann for his admittedly misguided contributions to three Democratic political candidates last year (including one to Gabrielle Giffords), Olbermann was equally accurate in his retort that the only times  the networks have made crucial contributions to the life of the republic have been when its anchors threw off their cloaks of objectivity–when Ed Murrow attacked Joe McCarthy, when Walter Cronkite devoted half of the CBS Evening News to Watergate, and–most importantly–when Cronkite went to Vietnam after the Tet Offensive in 1968, and declared the war an unwinnable stalemate.

    Olbermann said, “the great change about which Mr. Koppel wrings his hands is not partisanship nor tone nor analysis. The great change was the creation of the sanitized image of what men like Cronkite and Murrow and [others, including Koppel] did.  These were not glorified stenographers. These were not neutral men. These were men who did in their day what the best of journalists still try to do in this one. Evaluate, analyze, unscramble, assess — put together a coherent picture, or a challenging question — using only the facts as they can best be discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.”

    Asked by FCP to summarize Olbermann’s contributions, longtime media student Martha Ritter described them this way:

    He asked all the questions I wanted asked that no one else would. Piercing through the haze, maze, sorting out what the hell just happened today in a three dimensional way. WHY did this happen? Is it the state of the country? Is it a couple of nut jobs cooking something up? Now what can we expect? Why? Can we do something about it? (Yes, in some cases…i.e. help organize medical clinics, put your money where your mouth is…Here’s the phone number, etc.)

     It was like coming home to a brilliant, cranky family member who had nothing better to do all day than follow the flow of muck that shapes our lives, and run around talking to everyone about EVERYTHING to do with it. You get him at the end of the day when he holds what he’s gathered up to the light. You get his opinion PLUS valuable info, and on top of that…the cathartic honor of throwing up with him, marveling at ineptitude, absurdities, cracking up together, sometimes even witnessing other well-intentioned, smart, deft people who are helping the muck flow in the right direction.

    He took nothing at face value. He served up motivations and belief systems, often through interviews right before our eyes at a level of reporting you don’t exactly get in, say, The New York Times–or, for that matter, on a regular basis from Chris Matthews or Rachel Maddow, who, although they share Olbermann’s point of view, dig less and pontificate more.

    He expressed the outrage of millions in a razor sharp, nuanced, outsized, often entertaining way. What I am really going to miss is the feeling that, “Yeah, sock it to em, Keith. I’m going to relax and get something to eat.”

    Last Friday  Olbermann’s multiple battles with his bosses–perhaps combined with an eagerness by them to please the incoming owners from Comcast–culminated in the sharp surprise  of Olbermann’s final MSNBC broadcast.

            If the rumors are true that the cost of the separation to MSNBC was to pay Olbermann another $14 million for the last two years of his contract, it’s not  hard to understand why Keith took the deal.   According to Bill Carter and Brian Stelter, Olbermann’s deal with MSNBC will only keep him off television for nine months–at the most.

    That means he can return to the tube well beefore the 2012 presidential campaign begins in earnest. 

    Given his proven capacity to make money with often riveting television, there will be no shortage of cable outlets eager to get  him back on the air.  

    And that is good news for America.




The Hour When The Ship Comes In


Joshua Lott / courtesy The New York Times

Above the Fold

     To try to inflame the public on a daily basis, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has impact on people–especially [people] who are unbalanced to begin with.

                   –Pima County, Arizona  Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, January 9, 2011

    It’s true that the shooter in Arizona appears to have been mentally troubled. But that doesn’t mean that his act can or should be treated as an isolated event, having nothing to do with the national climate.

                    –Paul Krugman, January 10, 2011

    This morning in Arizona, this age in which this country would accept  “targeting” of political opponents and putting bullseyes over their faces and of the dangerous blurring between political rallies and gun shows, ended.  This morning in Arizona, this time of the ever-escalating, borderline-ecstatic invocation of violence in fact or in fantasy in our political discourse, closed. It is essential tonight not to demand revenge, but to demand justice; to insist not upon payback against those politicians and commentators who have so irresponsibly brought us to this time of domestic terrorism, but to work to change the minds of them and their supporters - or if those minds tonight are too closed, or if those minds tonight are too unmoved, or if those minds tonight are too triumphant, to make sure by peaceful means that those politicians and commentators and supporters have no further place in our system of government.

                  –Keith Olbermann, January 9, 2011

    No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen…All it takes is a few self-styled “patriots” to sow havoc.

                    --Frank Rich, February 27, 2010

    A hard rain’s gonna fall means something’s going to happen.

                    –Bob Dylan

    There was nothing really surprising about Saturday’s massacre in Arizona; that was the most horrifying thing about it.

    Events like this are completely predictable in a country where so many pundits and politicians are addicted to apocalyptic rhetoric, and all serious attempts to restrict the use of firearms have been abandoned.

    Where else but America could an obviously deranged college student be thrown out of school and forbidden to return without official certification of his mental health–and then proceed directly to a sporting goods store to purchase a 9 mm Glock pistol with a 30-bullet clip.  This kind of gun, according to Brady Campaign president Paul Helmke, “is not suited for hunting or personal protection.  What it’s good for is killing and injuring a lot of people quickly.”

    As Gail Collins pointed out in a crucial column today, the only reason Jared L. Loughner was able to buy that semiautomatic weapon legally was “because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004, and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it.”

    Today there is blood on the hands of all the legislators who failed to extend that law– and not just the blood of their colleague,  a federal judge,  four other dead and fourteen wounded innocents.   We can add to that the blood of tens of thousands murdered in the Mexican drug wars in the last four years–nearly all of them killed with assault weapons purchased legally on our side of the border, according to Mexican and American law enforcement officers.

  Arizona is  one of 12 “gold star” open carry states

    In a powerful  special comment on Saturday night, Keith Olbermann summarized the acts and the attitudes which contributed so much to this fatal climate–and which must now be repudiated:

    If  Sarah Palin, whose website put and today scrubbed bullseye targets on 20 Representatives including Gabby Giffords, does not repudiate her own part in amplifying violence and violent imagery in politics, she must be dismissed from politics - she must be repudiated by the members of her own party, and if they fail to do so, each one of them must be judged to have silently defended this tactic that today proved so awfully foretelling, and they must in turn be dismissed by the responsible members of their own party.

    If  Jesse Kelly, whose campaign against Congresswoman Giffords included an event in which he encouraged his supporters to join him firing machine guns, does not repudiate this, and does not admit that even if it was solely indirectly, or solely coincidentally, it contributed to the black cloud of violence that has envellopped our politics, he must be repudiated by Arizona’s Republican Party.

    If  Congressman Allen West, who during his successful campaign told his supporters that they should make his opponent afraid to come out of his home, does not repudiate those remarks and all other suggestions of violence and forced fear, he should be repudiated by his constituents and the Republican Congressional Caucus.

    If Sharron Angle, who spoke of “Second Amendment solutions,” does not repudiate that remark and urge her supporters to think anew of the terrible reality of what her words implied, she must be repudiated by her supporters in Nevada.

    If  the Tea Party leaders who took out of context a Jefferson quote about blood and tyranny and the tree of liberty do not understand - do not understand tonight, now what that really means, and these leaders do not tell their followers to abhor violence and all threat of violence, then those Tea Party leaders must be repudiated by the Republican Party.

    If  Glenn Beck, who obsesses nearly as strangely as Mr. Loughner did about gold and debt and who wistfully joked about killing Michael Moore, and Bill O’Reilly, who blithely repeated “Tiller the Killer” until the phrase was burned into the minds of his viewers, do not begin their next broadcasts with solemn apologies for ever turning to the death-fantasies and the dreams of bloodlust, for ever having provided just the oxygen to those deep in madness to whom violence is an acceptable solution, then those commentators and the others must be repudiated by their viewers, and by all politicians, and by sponsors, and by the networks that employ them.

    And if those of us considered to be “on the left” do not re-dedicate ourselves to our vigilance to eliminate all our own suggestions of violence - how ever inadvertent they might have been then we too deserve the repudiation of the more sober and peaceful of our politicians and our viewers and our networks.

    It has hardly helped matters that hate mongers like Roger Ailes and Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly are routinely treated so softly (or even warmly)  by pundits and reporters like David Carr and Brian Stelter and Bill Carter and David Gergen and James Poniewozik, and, worst of all,  David von Drehle, who wrote, obscenely,  in Time, that Beck 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.”

     And when incompetent repoters like NBC’s Mike Viqueira run clips of Sarah Palin saying that Barack Obama “wants to take all your guns away”–and then neglects to point out that this is a cold-blooded lie–they throw a different kind of fuel on the fire.  (The sad truth is,  the Obama admnistration has not done a single thing to try to encourage any kind of gun control in America.) 

    As Keith Olbermann said on Saturday, “we stand at one of the clichéd crossroads of American history. Even if the alleged terrorist Jared Lee Loughner was merely shooting into a political crowd because he wanted to shoot into a political crowd, even if he somehow was unaware who was in the crowd, we have nevertheless  for years been building up to a moment like this.  Assume the details are coincidence. The violence is not. The rhetoric has devolved and descended, past the ugly and past the threatening and past the fantastic and into the imminently murderous.”

    Yesterday, Matt Bai wrote in the Times,  “Tucson will either be the tragedy that brought us back from the brink, or the first in a series of gruesome memories to come.”

    If this is going to be the event that leads us away from the abyss, instead of plunging us to the bottom of it,  new and different kinds of courage and intelligence will be required from all of us.






American Heroes

Aaron Belkin, Barack Obama, Mike Mullen, Nathaniel Frank

Above the Fold

     Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

                                                                –Martin Luther King Jr., August 16, 1967

    Let us now praise four great Americans: Aaron Belkin, Nathaniel Frank, Admiral Mike Mullen, and Barack Hussein Obama.  They deserve more credit than everyone else for the historic vote of the United States Senate last weekend which will finally make it possible to end discrimination against the most courageous gay men and lesbians in the land.

    It was a long time coming.

    One of the reasons gay Americans were most excited about Bill Clinton when he ran for president was his promise to end the ban on gays in the military as soon as he took office.   But between the time Clinton was elected in November of 1992 and when he was sworn in on January 20th, 1993, the religious right had quietly gotten a majority of both houses to commit themselves to opposing any change in the policy.

    Then Joint Chiefs Chairman Colin Powell made an unholy alliance with Georgia Senator Sam Nunn to oppose the change, and the result was the disastrous compromise of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” – a policy that was supposed to permit gays and lesbians to serve as long as they didn’t disclose their sexual orientation, but actually led to the expulsion of more than 13,000 service men and women over the next seventeen years.

    Barack Obama took enormous flak from the gay community for failing to over-turn the policy more quickly, but now his slow and methodical approach has finally paid off.

    One year ago, at an off-the-record lunch with progressives at the White House, Obama was asked when he was finally going to fulfill his campaign promise.

    Wait until early next year, Obama replied: Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, is going to say something very interesting about this a couple of months from now.

    Because Colin Powell’s opposition had been so critical to Bill Clinton’s failure to keep his campaign promise in 1993, Obama understood very well that he would need his chairman of the Joint Chiefs on his side if he was going to win the battle this time.  And last February, Mullen came through – with all of the courage and integrity that Colin Powell had failed to muster seventeen years earlier.

    Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mullen declared,

    It is my personal belief that allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly would be the right thing to do…. For me personally, it comes down to integrity; theirs as individuals and ours as an institution…. I have served with homosexuals since 1968…everybody in the military has…. No matter how I look at this issue, I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens.  I also believe that the great young men of our military, can and would accommodate such a change – I never underestimated their ability to adapt.

    Without a doubt, it was Mullen’s testimony which eventually made it possible to convince large majorities in both houses to finally vote for equality.

    Like so many of the greatest victories of the gay rights movements, this one is a tribute to how much a handful of determined individuals can achieve. The two people who did the most to make Mullen’s testimony possible were two brilliant academics: Aaron Belkin, Associate Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University and Director of the Palm Center at the University of California, Santa Barbara; and Nathaniel Frank, author of Unfriendly Fire, the definitive book about gays in the military, which Frank published to rave reviews in the spring of 2009, providing all of us with unlimited ammunition to rebut the arguments of our deeply prejudiced opponents.

    For the last decade, Belkin and Frank have spent most of their waking hours making sure that the public and its political representatives were aware of one very simple fact: There is not, and there never has been, a single piece of hard evidence to support the idea that allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces would do anything other than enhance the national security of the United States.

    Together they wrote scores of articles and made hundreds of appearances to drill that idea deeply into the national consciousness.  Here are the bullet points from a typical piece Frank wrote for the CNN website, in response to a Washington Post op-ed by four retired officers, which claimed that lifting the ban would harm unit cohesion, recruitment and retention, and would ultimately “break the All-Volunteer Force.”

*   The [officers’] argument is an old one, and was an effective canard in defeating President Clinton’s move to lift the ban in 1993. But it has never been rooted in fact or evidence, and the effort of these officers to defeat equal treatment this time around will face mountains of opposing data and a dramatically changed cultural landscape.

*  The officers who oppose openly gay service do not base their arguments on any new information.

*  They cite an unscientific survey – it does not draw from a representative sampling but from newspaper subscribers – indicating that 58 percent of the military oppose lifting the ban and that, if it’s lifted, 24 percent claim they will leave or consider leaving after their tour ends.

*   But it’s naïve at best, and disingenuous at worst, to confuse this opinion survey with a sound prediction of actual behavior. When both Britain and Canada proposed lifting their gay bans in the 1990s, similar opinion surveys found much higher numbers – about two-thirds in both cases – claiming they, too, would leave. In each case, no more than three departures were attributed to the policy change. Three.

*  In fact, the evidence showing that openly gay service works is overwhelming. Since 1957, when the U.S. military began doing its own studies on gays in the military, every last bit of research has shown that openly gay service works.

* Studies of foreign militaries include a 1993 Government Accountability Office study of allied nations that found that “the presence of homosexuals in the military is not an issue and has not created problems in the functioning of military units”; a 1994 assessment by the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences finding that predicted negative consequences of ending gay exclusion in the Canadian Forces never materialized; the 2000 assessment of the British Ministry of Defense, calling its new policy of equal treatment “a solid achievement” with “no discernible impact” on recruitment or other critical variables; and four academic studies conducted by the Palm Center, where I work, finding that lifting bans in Britain, Israel, Canada and Australia had no negative impact on military readiness, including on recruitment and retention.

    (Very appropriately, Frank wrote his first two pieces on this subject in The Philadelphia Inquirer and The New Republic in 1998 – on the fortieth anniversary of President Truman’s executive order integrating the black and white units of the Armed Forces.)

    And here is what Belkin wrote for The Huffington Post after John McCain pretended that the newest study proving that there would be no serious harm from an end to discrimination was somehow inadequate.

*  Senator McCain and other Republicans fabricated phony arguments left and right. The 28 percent response rate to the military’s survey on gays, they said, is too low and renders the results invalid. Forget the fact that that’s about average for web-based as well as military surveys. Forget that any social scientist will tell you that response rates have nothing to do with the validity of a survey’s results as long as the pool of respondents is drawn properly. In this case, the military’s survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percent.

*  Then Republicans said that they just want to be sure not to rush things. Rush!? The Pentagon has been studying the issue for almost a year. There were more than 20 prior studies, all of which found the same thing, that gay troops don’t harm the military. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was supposed to be a temporary compromise when it was enacted 17 years ago. And, the first soldier fired for gay sex was drummed out of the Continental Army more than 230 years ago! How much slower do the Republicans want to go?

*  Then the Republicans repeated the only phony claims about combat effectiveness. Sure, a bunch of combat troops say that repeal would undermine combat effectiveness. But saying something is going to happen is not the same as showing that it is going to happen. Service members in foreign militaries also said that gays would undermine combat effectiveness, but when gay bans were lifted in those countries, there was no impact at all. And get this: of the 69 percent of U.S. troops who serve or suspect they serve with gays, 92 percent said that repealing the ban would not undermine their unit’s ability to work together. If gays undermined combat effectiveness we would have seen that already in Iraq and Afghanistan (and for that matter, Kuwait, Vietnam, Korea, and World War II, all of which included openly serving gay troops).

*  My favorite baloney of the day was the Republican talking point that the Pentagon Working Group failed to listen to the troops or ask them whether “don’t ask, don’t tell” should be repealed. Huh? The troops offered opinions on this and other topics in an on-line inbox that received 72,384 comments, in 95 face-to-face forums at 51 bases that included more than 24,000 troops, and in 140 smaller focus groups. It is true that the survey did not include a question about whether the troops want repeal. But the troops had a lot of other opportunities to express that point. And we already know from three different polls, (Annenberg, Zogby, and Military Times) that approximately 40 percent of the troops oppose repeal, 30 percent favor it, and 30 percent don’t know or don’t care.

*  Why can’t the Republicans just be honest? They don’t care what is good for the military. They don’t care about what the Secretary of Defense says. They don’t care about what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says. They don’t care about the data. They don’t care about methodology. They don’t care about process. They care about one thing and one thing only: prejudice. And when it comes to prejudice, all they want is more, more more.

     Veteran gay activist Ethan Geto summarized the achievements of Belkin and Frank this way:

     What a historic moment in the great civil rights battles of modern times! You guys deserve more credit than you’ll receive – and you’ll receive plenty – because you crafted the intellectual framework that was the sine qua non to achieve repeal. Your exhaustive research, your compelling presentation of the issues and your relentless logic that left our opposition without a factual leg to stand on have been a marvel and a privilege to watch. If you hadn’t shown that unit cohesion actually would be strengthened by repeal, brought attention to the positive experience of foreign militaries, exposed how the military discharged so many highly-skilled and critically-needed specialists and worked so persistently inside the Pentagon and the service academies, this day would not have happened in my lifetime.

    Belkin is now writing a book about the seventeen-year battle to change the policy, How We Won: Inside Stories from the 17-Year Struggle to Repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

    Whichever house is lucky enough to publish this book will get the definitive story of the first great American civil rights battle of the 21st century.

    Five others deserve special mention for their efforts to make this tremendous victory possible.

    They are Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, an Iraq war veteran who made the end of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell his signature issue – and got 187 of his colleagues to co-sponsor the repeal of the current policy, before he was defeated at the polls in the Republican surge of last November.

    Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin was a principled and persistent critic of the current policy.

    Jeh C. Johnson co-authored the latest Pentagon study with Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of the United States Army.  As Elisabeth Bumiller reported in the Times today, Johnson’s uncle, “Robert B. Johnson, was not only one of the Tuskegee Airmen, but was also a participant in what is known as the Freeman Field Mutiny in 1945, when a group of the airmen were arrested for entering an all-white officers’ club at Freeman Field in Indiana. The airmen were imprisoned for 10 days until the Army chief of staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, intervened. Three years later, President Harry S. Truman integrated the military by executive order.”

    And although Johnson told the Times that “discrimination based on race and sexual orientation are different — sexual orientation, he maintains, is ‘not a self-identifier’ ” – unlike Colin Powell, Johnson understood that there were more similarities than differences between today’s battle and the one fought for black troops by Harry Truman six decades ago.

    And when he took his current job at the Pentagon, Johnson told friends that a repeal of the current policy would be his first priority.

    Finally, there are two great gay authors who set the stage for this week’s magnificent achievement: Allan Bérubé, who wrote “Coming Out Under Fire,” about gay American troops who served in World War II, and Randy Shilts, whose final book was Conduct Unbecoming.  Together, they proved that gay people had been serving honorably, but secretly, in the armed forces since our republic began.

    Yesterday, FCP asked Belkin how he felt about his great achievement.  This was his reply:

    Two hundred and thirty-two years ago, in 1778, the first gay soldier was kicked out of the Continental Army.   As a community we kept telling the rest of the country to treat us as human beings.  Last weekend, they finally listened.

                                                                       *    *    *

    The passage of this splendid bill should reminds us of one other political reality of our time: Whenever the Washington press corps decides that Barack Obama’s administration is an abject failure, that is a very reliable indicator that he is poised once again to rise from the dead.

    In the last two weeks Obama got a new economic stimulus package passed (at the cost of some outrageously unnecessary tax cuts), he gave the gay community its greatest legislative victory ever, and it looks like he is about to overcome the opposition of know-nothing Republicans to get the START treaty passed by the Senate.

    Last night the Senate even rescued the food safety bill from what looked like almost-certain oblivion.

    Combined with the passage of health care, and a financial regulations bill whose provisions have been consistently underestimated by the mainstream media and the blogosphere alike, this is what is really true about our president: On the domestic front, he has now accomplished many more important things in his first two years in office than any other modern president since Lyndon Baines Johnson

    The hope here is that Obama will still manage to get out of Afghanistan before that catastrophe obliterates his achievements at home, the same way that Vietnam overshadowed so much of what LBJ accomplished with the Great Society.


Ernesto Londono had a superb story in The Washington Post about gay American troops following the Senate’s vote around the world, from Afghanistan to Frankfurt.

Nate Silver finds an interesting correlation between states carried by Obama in 2008 and Republican senators who voted to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Wednesday update:

    There was an electric atmosphere in the auditorium of the Department of the Interior on Wednesday morning, where five hundred people had gathered to witness the president signing the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

     Admiral Mike Mullen was the most admired person in the room, and he got two standing ovations which proved it; Congressman Mike Murphy of Pennsylvania, the Iraq veteran who had led the battle to get the bill passed in the house,  got a richly deserved  ovation as well.

    Aaron Belkin sat beaming in the first row in front of the stage, exactly where he belonged.

    The New York Times posted a pedestrian story about this extraordinary event, but at least it managed to record the presence of the most important gay activist in the room, eighty-five year old Frank Kameny, a World War II combat veteran who is the father of the gay rights movement in the United States.

     Four and a half decades ago, at the height of the black Civil Rights Movement, Kameny had led the first gay picket line outside the White House, protesting federal job discrimination against homosexuals.  Since Obama became president, Kameny has been inside the White House as a guest,  four times.

     Just weeks ago, most gay Americans were still disheartened by Obama’s record on gay rights.   But today, even David Mixner, a long-time gay activist whose criticism of the president had been blistering, was present in Washington  to cheer the movement’s once and future hero. 

            “Yes we can,” the crowd chanted.

            “Yes we did,” the president replied.

    Until today, the two greatest gay rights victories in America had both been decisions by the United States Supreme Court–Romer V. Evans, in 1996, when the court invalidated a Colorado state constitutional initiative that had forbidden protection for gay people from discrimination, and Lawrence v. Texas, which over-turned every remaining state law which had made our kind of lovemaking a crime.

    Not once had the House and the Senate both managed to pass a major gay rights initiative.  And when the Senate initially failed to muster the votes to halt the filibuster against the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell earlier this month, there was a collective shudder within the community, over yet another failure by the Senate to corroborate the notion that all men and women are created equal.

    That roller coaster ride was one more reason why today’s climactic victory was so dramatic, and so satisfying.

    The president’s speech was vintage Obama, as good as anything he delivered on the campaign trail.

    He recalled his recent visit to Afghanistan, where a young woman in uniform standing at the rope line “pulled me into a hug and she whispered in my ear, ‘Get Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ done.’  And I said to her, “I promise I will.”

    To many of us, keeping that promise was at least as important as anything else he has done as president.  Today, Obama looked as though he felt that way as well.

    Then the president ended with a peroration as moving as any he has ever delivered:

            We are not a nation that says, “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

            We are a nation that says, “Out of many, we are one.”

            We are a nation that welcomes the service of every patriot.

            We are a nation that believes that all men and women are created equal.

            Those are the ideals that generations have fought for.

            Those are the ideals that we uphold today.

     And in that instant, all of the idealism he had originally embodied was instantly restored for millions of his most passionate supporters.


WikiLeaks, Obama and Beck


Hendrik Hertzberg, Julian Assange, Mark Lilla, Barack Obama

Above the Fold

             The document deluge from WikiLeaks is a unique event: vastly larger than any previous security breach in the history of the world.

             Ever since the first batch of secret cables was published, there has been no shortage of “experts” who have proclaimed their certainty about the effects of their publication–and an equally large number of commentators thrilled by the size of this gigantic wrench, aimed at the heart of American diplomacy in every corner of the globe.

            But the truth is, it will be a very long time before we know all the consequences of this act of anarchy.

            Of the hundreds of articles already written about this, one of the calmest and wisest was the op-ed piece in The New York Times,   from Paul W. Schroeder, a retired history professor and the author of “The Transformation of European Politics, 1763 -1848.”

            Schroeder focused on the difference between “targeted leaks”–like the one made by Bismarck in 1870, which led to a war with France which ended in a total Prussian victory–and untargeted ones, like the opening of the floodgates by WikiLeaks.  Schroeder explains:

            Releasing confidential diplomatic correspondence to influence foreign relations…is like using dynamite in a construction zone. Carried out by experts after a careful analysis of the risks involved, it may be effective, like blowing off part of a hillside to build a road.

            But what WikiLeaks has done is entirely different: more like the work of irresponsible amateurs using dynamite to expand a tunnel that also contains…a city’s electrical lines.

            The leaks will probably not cause war or even a serious crisis, but they will badly damage America’s diplomatic machinery, processes and reputation.

            That’s because an essential function of diplomacy is get people tell you things that they shouldn’t, so that you can get a more accurate portrait of the country you are reporting on.  And whatever else WikiLeaks may have accomplished, it has certainly made that task vastly more difficult for American diplomats everywhere.

            The New York Times says it was careful to redact any information which it thought could jeopardize the life of an American source.   But WikiLeaks itself has probably been a lot less assiduous about that than The Times was.   And the truth is, no outsider can be certain which leak points to a particular individual, and which one does not.   Already, Newsweek is reporting (admittedly unconfirmed) rumors that the Taliban is drawing up new lists of Afghani collaborators to target for assassination–lists which may or may not have been assembled with the help of these previously secret documents.

            The other piece about this which is replete with sensible observations is Rick Hertzberg’s comment    in the current New Yorker.

            Hertzberg focuses on what the leaked cables tells us about US efforts to prevent Iran from getting The Bomb, he also includes these broader, wise conclusions:

            *  We have learned that our Foreign Service officers can be vivid writers, though their future prose is bound to be duller and their interlocutors more guarded, at least for a while.

           * There are no grand revelations of epic lying, deceit, or criminality—nothing remotely on the scale of the Tonkin Gulf “incident” that justified the escalation of the Vietnam conflict, in 1964, the C.I.A.’s role in bringing Pinochet to power in Chile, in 1973, or, more recently, the Bush-Cheney embrace of torture.

         *  Perhaps the two biggest secrets that the WikiLeaks leaks leaked are that the private face of American foreign policy looks pretty much like its public face and that the officials who carry it out do a pretty good job. Both are true with respect to Iran and its nuclear ambitions, to judge from the cables, which add a great deal of textural detail to what was already known.

             One irony here is that the monumental embarrassment suffered by the State Department is yet another victory for the “terrorists”–because the leak apparently stemmed from a government-wide decision to share much more information among all departments, to try to prevent the sort of multiple intelligence failures which may have made 9/11 possible in the first place.

       Somehow, as part of that effort, the Army managed to create a system in which an extremely low-level enlisted man was able to download hundreds of thousands of secret State Department cables, without the knowledge of any of his superiors.   

            The apparent culpability of the Army is the source of another, less-widely noted irony: this  event is also the single greatest fucking the State Department has ever gotten from the Army, since the beginning of the republic.




            The deal with Congressional Republicans which extends the Bush tax cuts for everyone is bad policy, dispiriting politics–and probably the best combination of economic stimulus and obscene waste which Obama could salvage from a terrible situation.

            It’s easy to blame the president for caving–and cave he did–but it was the Congressional Democrats who failed all year to renew the tax cuts without giving them to those making more than $250,000 a year.   The reason they failed was the almost total incapacity of a large Democratic majority in the Senate to prevail over the angry, idiotic Republican minority, which has clung so fiercely to just two disgusting goals: undermining the president, regardless of the worthiness of his proposals, and coddling the richest two percent of the country, which literally invested hundreds of millions of dollars this year to improve the Republicans’ fortunes.

            It is, frankly, beyond the belief, that roughly half of our citizenry is now so dumb or so brainwashed that there is no outrage among them when the Republicans decide to shut down Senate business until millionaires and billionaires are promised the continuation of tax cuts, which will balloon the budget deficit, probably without creating a single new job.    But that is how dumb half the country has become.

            If, by breaking this roadblock, Obama is now able to get the Senate to pass the START Treaty  and to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, there will be a much stronger argument for this compromise.  But if he fails to accomplish either of those goals during the balance of the lame duck session, it will be that much harder to defend his decision.





            A review by Mark Lilla   of five books by or about Glenn Beck in The New York Review of Books does a better job of explaining what “the most gifted demagogue America has produced since Father Coughlin” is really about than anything else I have read this year.

            Lilla explains that rather being static like Limbaugh or O’Reilly, “with Glenn Beck you never know what you’ll get.  He is a perpetual work in progress, a billboard offering YOUR MESSAGE HERE.”   Lilla points out

              The truth is, demagogues don’t have cores. They are mediums, channeling currents of public passion and opinion that they anticipate, amplify, and guide, but do not create; the less resistance they offer, the more successful they are. This nonresistance is what distinguishes Beck from his confreres in the conservative media establishment, who have created more sharply etched characters for themselves.

            What makes [Beck] particularly appealing to his audience is not his positions, it is that he appears to feel and fear and admire and instinctively believe what his listeners do, even when their feelings, fears, esteem, and beliefs are changing or self-contradictory. This is the gift of the true demagogue, to successfully identify his own self, rather than his opinions, with the selves of his followers—and to equate both with the “true” nation.

            This is a crucial observation–and about twenty times smarter than anything David von Drehle or Mark Leibovich wrote about Beck, in their respective cover stories about him in Time and The New York Times Magazine.



Correction:  FCP was wrong to assume that WikiLeaks has been less assiduous than the The Times in redacting information which might endanger American sources.  According to this AP story, WikiLeaks “is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material…Each publication suggested a way to remove names and details considered too sensitive, and ‘I suppose WikiLeaks chooses the ones it likes,’ El Pais Editor in Chief Javier Moreno [told the AP] in a telephone interview from his Madrid office.”  (H/T Glenn Greenwald, who wrote about this here.) 


Winners & Sinners: Theatre-Film-TV Edition

Harvard’s John Cambell, Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard, Columbia’s Frederic Mishkin; Charles Ferguson


Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson; John and Yoko in American Masters’ John Lennon


That Hopey Changey Thing; Christopher Eccleston in “Lennon Naked”

Winner: Inside Job, in theaters now.

    If you only see one movie this fall, buy a ticket to Inside Job, Charles Ferguson’s devastating exploration of the $20 trillion meltdown caused by the conscious malfeasance of the wizards of Wall Street.

     A classic piece of investigative journalism, Ferguson traveled the world to interview everyone from French finance minster Christine Lagarde–whose reaction to Lehman’s collapse was “holy cow”–to a Wall Street psychiatrist whose high-rolling patients freely described their symbiotic addictions to prostitutes and cocaine.

    Ferguson has a B.A. in mathematics, a Ph.D in political science, and the very special gift of knowing how to take a hugely complicated subject and breaking it down into small, digestible parts.

    Here is the director’s own synopsis of his film, which is narrated by Matt Damon:

    The progressive deregulation of the financial sector since the 1980s gave rise to an increasingly criminal industry, whose “innovations” have produced a succession of financial crises. Each crisis has been worse than the last; and yet, due to the industry’s increasing wealth and power, each crisis has seen few people go to prison. In the case of this crisis, nobody has gone to prison, despite fraud that caused trillions of dollars in losses. I hope that the film, in less than two hours, will enable everyone to understand the fundamental nature and causes of this problem. It is also my hope that, whatever political opinions individual viewers may have, that after seeing this film we can all agree on the importance of restoring honesty and stability to our financial system, and of holding accountable those to destroyed it.

    The number of crimes committed by the financial industry and the abject failure of the Obama administration to bring criminal prosecutions against any of the executives responsible for them are two of the most depressing aspects of Ferguson’s story.   Although Ferguson does not make this point explicitly, it’s now obvious that this failure to prosecute by the Obama Justice Department was both bad policy and extremely bad politics.   Because the administration never sent any Wall Street executives to jail, it was easy for the Republicans to attack the administration for coddling the financial industry–even though many Republicans had united with Democrats to enact the bailouts which sparked such primal rage across America.

    One of the more original aspects of the film is its portrayal of the utter corruption of economics professors and business school deans, who  seem to have been bought lock, stock and barrel by the financial industry and/or foreign governments in need of a clean bill of health– usually just before they go bust.

    Columbia Business School dean Glenn Hubbard, Harvard economics chair John Cambell, and Columbia Business School professor and Frederic Mishkin are each shown in the film to be either personally corrupt, absurdly in denial about their own conflicts and those of their colleagues, or both.

    The film begins with a concise description of how bank de-regulation in Iceland quickly brought that country to its knees.   Among Professor Mishkin’s many accomplishments is a report he co-authored for the Icelandic Chamber of Commerce to deflect sharp criticism of that country’s economy in 2006.  The report, entitled “Financial Stability in Iceland” asserted that the fundamentals of Iceland’s economy remained strong–and it earned Mkiskin the tidy sum of $124,000.

    A year later Iceland’s economy suffered a spectacular collapse–and a couple of years after that, the title of Mishkin’s report had a small but spectacular transformation: Ferguson discovers “Financial Stablity in Iceland” is now listed on Miskin’s c/v as “Financial Instability in Iceland.”

    Oh, Miskin replies–“just a typo,” I guess.

    As the movie’s own publicity puts it, “This is the film that cost over $20,000,000,000,000 to make.” 

   A.O. Scott noted in his rave review  in The New York Times, the film includes “pervasive obscenity, though not the verbal kind.”

Winner: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, now at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre in New York.

     This musical transplant from the Public Theatre to Broadway is a campy history lesson done with  charm and enormous energy. With music and lyrics by Michael Friedman, and a book by its director, Alex Timbers, the musical views the modern preoccupations of the Tea Party through the Lens of Jackson’s early-19th century populism.

    Twenty-something Broadway veteran Benjamin Walker gives an ironic and beguiling performance in the title role.

Sinner: That Hopey Changey Thing at the Public Theatre Lab in New York.

    Written and directed by Richard Nelson, this new political play  opened on the very night it portrays–election night, 2010.  But it isn’t even ripped from the headlines; it just regurgitates them.  This makes for an endlessly didactic evening about one family of mostly liberal Democrats dining in the Hudson Valley and bemoaning the state of the world.   Most of the actors are just fine; unfortunately they  have woefully little to work with.

Winner: Fair Game, in theaters now.

    Directed by Bourne Identity veteran Doug Liman, this is a taut political thriller about the outing  of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent by the Bush administration in retaliation for her husband’s completely accurate op-ed piece, which undermined the Bush administration’s phony WMD rationale for going to war in Iraq. 

    All the cravenness of Karl Rove (who dodged prosecution for the illegal leak) and Scooter Libby (who was convicted for it, only to have his sentence commuted  by Bush) comes flooding back in this strongly-told morality tale.   Sean Penn is splendid as  Ambassador Joseph Wilson and Naomi Watts is superb as Plame, the working mother who tries to balance visits with covert operatives around the world with the demands of her two children–and a husband who is dangerously addicted to the truth.

Winner: John Lennon from American Masters on PBS.

    Written and directed by Michael Epstein and first broadcast earlier this week on PBS, this excellent two-hour documentary focuses on the last year’s of Lennon’s life with Yoko Ono in  New York City, and his long and ultimately successful battle against deportation by the thugs of the Nixon administration.  It also includes his Day of the Locusts period in Los Angeles, when the briefly single Lennon descends into alcoholism and madness.  

     The does a fine job of reminding us of Lennon’s admirable obsession with peace–and how wrong reporters like Gloria Emerson of The New York Times were to denigrate him for it (Emerson’s condescending questions are included here though she is never identified.)

Watch the whole film online here.

Sinner: Lennon Naked, from the BBC via PBS.

    This bio pic directed by Edmund Coulthard and starring Christopher Eccleston, also broadcast earlier this week on PBS, is occasionally compelling but generally much less interesting than its nonfiction counterpart.  Eccleston struggles valiantly to recreate the great troubadour, but ultimately his version is never quite as interesting as the real thing.


Olbermann v. Koppel, Alterman v. Hitchens


 Above the Fold

    Keith Olbermann was wrong to contribute $7,200 to three Democratic candidates.  It was a violation of company rules (whether he knew that or not), it was needlessly provocative, it offended many of his colleagues, and it undermined the credibility of his network.

    So a two-day suspension from the air was perfectly appropriate.

    But the torrent of criticism from everyone from Tom Brokaw (privately, according to Howie Kurtz) to Ted Koppel (very publicly, in The Washington Post) only emphasized the incompetence of Olbermann’s critics.

    Everything in Koppel’s 1,500 word diatribe in The Post reminded FCP of how pompous and shallow Koppel  always was, even in his prime.  

    The first problem was the idiotically false equivalence Koppel found among Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly–“individuals who hold up the twin pillars of political partisanship….”

    It is really nothing less than obscene to equate serious people like Maddow and Olbermann with dangerous clowns like Hannity and Beck.   The MSNBC anchors are, indeed, relentlessly liberal.  But they are also extremely intelligent, careful with the facts, and genuinely interested in the truth.

    Hannity and Beck are none of those things.  As Dana Milbank pointed out recently, during the short time Barack Obama has been president, Beck has managed “202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels”–and most of these were directed in some form at Obama.

    Olbermann may have made three small and stupid donations to Democratic candidates, but Hannity has been a full-time money-raising machine for everyone from Sharron Angle to Christine O’Donnell.  Nearly all the rest of Roger Ailes’ boys and girls are Reublican fundraisers, or prospective Republican presidential candidates, or both.

    And as Obama jetted off to Asia, Beck once again displayed his unrivaled capacity for prevarication:  “Have you ever seen the president, ever seen the president go over for a vacation where you needed 34 warships, $2 billion — $2 billion, 34 warships. We are sending — he’s traveling with 3,000 people.”  As Tom Friedman notes today, “In Beck’s rendition, the president’s official state visit to India became ‘a vacation’ accompanied by one-tenth of the U.S. Navy’ ” (all of which was based on the presumably pure invention of a single unnamed provincial official in India).

    Thus, anyone like Koppel who writes that “Fox News and MSNBC “show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be,” either never watches these networks on a regular basis, or simply has no judgment.

    The rest of Koppel’s piece tends to support the latter conclusion.   Besides the flatly false statement that 60 Minutes was the first network news program ever to turn a profit (see Jack Schafer’s excellent dissection of that fantasy), Koppel’s theme–that objectivity used to be the greatest strength of all the news divisions–is equally false.

    Olbermann did a fine job of demonstrating that in a searing  “special comment”  on his program a couple of days after Koppel’s article appeared.  Olbermann reported quite correctly that the only times  the networks have made crucial contributions to the life of the republic have actually been when its anchors explicitly threw off the cloak of objectivity–when Ed Murrow attacked Joe McCarthy, when Walter Cronkite devoted half of the CBS Evening News to Watergate (at a moment when every other news organization except The Washington Post was ignoring it), and–most importantly–when Cronkite went to Vietnam after the Tet Offensive in 1968.  Cronkite courageously declared in a prime time special that nothing better than a stalemate was possible in Vietnam, and called on the United States to negotiate its way out, “not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could.”

    Olbermann continued, “the great change about which Mr. Koppel wrings his hands is not partisanship nor tone nor analysis. The great change was the creation of the sanitized image of what men like Cronkite and Murrow and [others, including Koppel] did.  These were not glorified stenographers. These were not neutral men. These were men who did in their day what the best of journalists still try to do in this one. Evaluate, analyze, unscramble, assess — put together a coherent picture, or a challenging question — using only the facts as they can best be discerned, plus their own honesty and conscience.”

    Meanwhile, we have people like Tom Brokaw–who never used his anchor seat to do anything remotely as important as what Cronkite did–attacking Olbermann for compromising his network’s credibility.   And yet, almost simultaneously, Brokaw was going on NBC’s Nightly News this month to parrot Republican talking points, including the crucial need to redefine the rich in America  as anyone who makes at least $1 million, instead of a paltry $250,000.   Because editorializing from the right is always allowed on every network–and only a multimillionaire like Brokaw would consider someone earning $250,000 “poor.”

    There is one more problem with the idea that Keith Olbermann is, or ever could be, the biggest threat to the reputation of NBC News.  The people most responsible for diminishing it are the executives who are in charge of it.

    Two and a half years ago, David Barstow of The New York Times wrote a brilliant piece revealing that all of the major networks had been victims of a Pentagon propaganda scheme, which used legions of retired military officers to push the Bush administration’s line about Iraq and Afghanistan.   As Barstow wrote, “Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse — an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.”

    That piece won the Pulitzer Prize.  And it was followed, six months after it was published, by another Barstow article  that focused on NBC’s favorite military analyst, retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey.  Entitled “One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex,” it described how McCaffrey’s ties to defense contractors made him the direct beneficiary of any on-air commentary which supported either war.

    And what did NBC News executives  decide was the appropriate on-air response to Barstow’s accusations? 

    Absolute silence, which continues to this day – and was mimicked by all the other evening news shows.  With that decision, all the network news divisions gave up their claims to being serious news gathering organizations.


                                                 *           *          *


    Christopher Hitchens is now fighting a gallant fight for his life against cancer.   He is one of the best-loved and most-despised writers of our time.   For the finest explanation ever written of those dueling points of view, don’t miss Eric Alterman’s brilliant review of Hitchens’ memoirs in the current issue of Dissent.   It begins this way:

    Has there ever been anyone quite like Christopher Hitchens? As a writer and a thinker, Hitchens may be the greatest performance artist the profession has ever produced. He is Oscar Wilde without the plays; Gore Vidal without the novels; Edmund Wilson without the ideas; George Orwell without the integrity; and Richard Burton without the movies (and Elizabeth Taylor). What he is not, however, is the author of lasting works of reportage, criticism, philosophy, or, dare I say it, literature.

    Despite his myriad (and on occasion, damn-near miraculous) talents as literary critic, columnist, and long-form journalist, Hitchens’s genius undoubtedly lies in the art of the argument. “The world I live in is one where I have five quarrels a day, each with someone who really takes me on over something; and if I can’t get into an argument, I go looking for one, to make sure I trust my own arguments, to hone them,” he has explained, adding, “I would often rather have an argument or a quarrel than be bored, and because I hate to lose an argument, I am often willing to protract one for its own sake rather than concede even a small point.”

    For the rest of Alterman’s piece, go here.

   (H/T to Hal Davis for bringing it to FCP’s attention.)







That "Tsunami" Was Actually a Split Decision


Above the Fold

     It could have been worse–a great deal worse.

     Tuesday was a difficult night for the Democratic party, but with an unemployment rate stubbornly stuck above nine percent, the loss of the House of Representatives had been a foregone conclusion for some time.   And while it is true the Republicans won six more House seats in 2010 than they did in the genuine blow-out of 1994, this time they failed to capture the Senate, despite a stream of stories suggesting that  unlimited campaign spending by American corporations would put the Grand Old Party over the top in both houses of Congress.

    Especially on the two coasts (where Fox news may be somewhat less influential), it was a terrible night for right-wing women millionaires–and Democratic Senate candidates won by huge margins.   In Connecticut, former wrestling magnate Linda McMahon spent $50 million of her own money and still lost by twelve points to Democrat Richard Blumenthal in the Senate Race.   In California, Carly Fiorina spent $5 million from her own pocket and got walloped 51. 9 to 42.6 percent by veteran Democrat Barbara Boxer–and Meg Whitman spent a staggering $140 million so that she could be humiliated by Jerry Brown in the Governor’s race.

    In another piece of good news, David Cicilline, the mayor of Providence, R.I., will become the fourth openly gay member of the House of Representatives, joining Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin , Barney Frank of Massachusetts, and Jared Polis of Colorado in the 112th Congress.

    This year was supposed to be all about the energy generated by the Tea Party, but that movement’s most important contribution to the election was to guarantee the Democrats control of the Senate, by nominating Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware.  O’Donnell was crushed 56 to 40 percent by Christopher Coons, while Harry Reid beat back Angle by almost 6 percentage points.   Senate Democratic candidates also prevailed narrowly in Colorado and Washington, and by ten points in West Virginia.

     Despite the very best efforts of Roger Ailes and his minions, millions of Americans still won’t elect lunatics to the Upper House.

    But the split decision that was this  year’s  election did not fit the narrative the Beltway boys and girls had been pushing for three months.   All they could wonder about on Wednesday was why Obama wasn’t abandoning all of his policies in response to what Washington reporters thought could only be seen as a rejection of everything he has accomplished in his first two years in office.

    The president actually gave an extremely reasonable, and characteristically intelligent performance at his press conference the day after the election.  While acknowledging a “shellacking,” he correctly attributed the results to the deep frustration of voters “with the pace of our economic recovery and the opportunities that they hope for, for their children and their grandchildren.  They want jobs to come back faster, they want paychecks to go further, and they want the ability to give their children the same chances and opportunities as they’ve had in life.”

    The president added, “I do believe there is hope for civility.  I do believe there’s hope for progress.  And that’s because I believe in the resiliency of a nation that’s bounced back from much worse than what we’re going through right now.”

    And when Fox’s Mike Emanuel pointed out that exit polls showed that one in two voters favor a repeal of health care reform,  Obama quite sensibly pointed out: “It also means one out of two voters think it was the right thing to do.”

    Naturally these sentiments were judged wholly inadequate by a furious White House press corps.  NBC’s Savannah Guthrie, another TV reporter whose attractiveness is perfectly matched by her shallowness, told the president, “You don’t seem to be reflecting or second-guessing any of the policy decisions you’ve made, instead saying the message the voters were sending was about frustration with the economy or maybe even chalking it up to a failure on your part to communicate effectively.  If you’re not reflecting on your policy agenda, is it possible voters can conclude you’re still not getting it?”

    On Washington Week in Review last night, Gwen Ifill declared that there were just two possible interpretations of the president’s performance at his press conference, “and neither of them are flattering to the president.  He’s in the rock and the hard place.  Which is, one is, he didn’t really hear what the people really said, and the other is, he just is kind  of stubborn.  There’s not a good interpretation of his reaction at least his initial reaction to this drubbing.” 

    That statement was nearly as dumb as the one she made at the top of her show: “What happened on Tuesday,” Ifill declared, “was a wave so forceful that even political tsunami warnings didn’t prepare Democrats for what it would actually feel like.”  That was so far from the truth that even one of Ifill’s own panelists, Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, felt compelled to correct her:

    “I got the sense from calling around to Democratic leaders that they weren’t quite as shell-shocked as they were after the 1994 election,” Tumulty said.  “They did see this one coming.  But also, unlike a lot of these big wave elections, in this case the Democrats did pull it out for some very high-profile governor races and very high-profile senate races.”

    The same night, over on NBC’s Nightly News, Tom Brokaw managed to sound as out-of-it as he looked, pompously forecasting  “a 21st century version of a Shakespearian drama” because of the newly divided government.

    The former $10-million-a-year man castigated Obama for calling families that make $250,000 a year “rich” ($1 million should be the cut-off, according to Brokaw).  He also said “influential Democrats” believe that the president should shake up his cabinet, go outside of his Chicago circle, and “move to the center.”

    Move to the center, of course, is Washington talk for returning to the extreme right positions which prevailed during the previous administration.   The truth is, Obama has never been anywhere except the center, accepting countless compromises to get a health care plan passed (including his abandonment of the public option) as well dozens of changes on the way to signing the first serious financial reform act since the depression.

    What this election really proved is that America remains split right down the middle, and victory always goes to the side that manages the best turnout among its supporters.   In 2008, that was the Democrats; in 2010, it was the Republicans.   If the economy finally manages a robust recovery by 2012, Obama will be re-elected by a wide margin.  If it doesn’t, he will almost certainly be defeated.  

    Just one thing is certain: just about everything you’ve heard on television during the last four days will have no relevance to the ultimate success or failure of his administration.


Jon Stewart summarized the questions at the President’s press conference this way: “Do you suck? And a quick follow up: Do you suck so bad, you don’t even know how sucky you are?”   For the rest of his roundup, go here.

The Three Billion Dollar Election


Campaign spending graphic courtesy of NBC News


     Above the Fold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    As Frank Rich wrote in another brilliant column last Sunday,

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

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