Full Court Press
Above the Fold
“The next twenty-four months could be the most exciting time in the history of the magazine business.”
–Tom Wallace, Editorial Director, Condé Nast Publications
FCP sat down for lunch with Tom Wallace this week in the Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria at 4 Times Square, and found himself across from the most upbeat media executive FCP has met in several years.
The immediate cause for Wallace’s fervor is the new version of Wired magazine. Introduced last month for the iPad, the June issue sold a remarkable 90,000 copies through iTunes, for $4.99 a copy. With a 70/30 revenue split with Itunes, that meant an immediate jump in circulation revenue for Condé Nast of $314,370.
And because Condé Nast convinced the Audit Bureau of Circulation to certify its new electronic sales to count the same as its newsstand sales, the new version has more than doubled its newsstand sales overnight--if that electronic sales number holds up. (Perhaps to help the momentum, the July issue--pictured above--has just gone on sale for only $3.99. A CN spokeswoman said “the pricing will continue to evolve and change.”)
Wallace is hopeful that electronic sales will continue to rise, partly because, while there were two million iPad owners in June, Apple is forecasting there will be ten million by January 1--and some analysts are expecting a total of 60 million tablets from all manufacturers in consumers’ hands by 2015.
Since there was no discernible decline in Wired’s traditional newsstand sales of roughly 80,000 last month, Wallace believes that virtually all of the iTunes sales were to new customers. “The cannibalization--if there is any--is not evident,” he said.
The new version was made possible by a collaboration between Condé Nast and Adobe. Wired was chosen as the first to use an Adobe platform, partly because its headquarters is two blocks from Adobe’s in California. “The Adobe people are nice guys, and they’re sensitive to how we work,” said Wallace. “A couple of their engineers moved into the Wired editorial offices and studied how we make magazines.”
The Adobe engineers assumed that their main contact would be with the editorial side of the magazine, but Wallace “made it clear from the outset that we wanted this medium to be as friendly and as productive for our advertizing partners as it was for us editorially”--because 80 percent of CN’s revenues are from ads.
In the new Wired, clicking on an ad leads you to the advertiser’s website--and can also yield the same kind of video or slideshow available on the editorial pages. Equally exciting for the advertiser: very early data suggests users spend 140 minutes with Wired on an iPad–versus 90 minutes for the printed versions.
The Adobe platform makes 360-degree imagery possible, so you can take 60 pictures of a single object and view all of them. And it’s a big step up from the Apple application Condé Nast is using to sell Vanity Fair and GQ on iTunes--both of which have done absolutely nothing to capture the consumer’s imagination.
Typical iTunes reviews:
“I love Vanity Fair but this interface is flawed, unintuitive and poorly thought out.”
“I bought GQ thinking was like the Wired appl, which is great, and this is nothing close. The layout is just like the paper magazine but in a pdf-like form. It’s slow!”
Next up on the Adobe platform: The New Yorker, sometime this fall.
“We’re feeling good about the future of publishing,” said Wallace, who dealt with the impact of the recession last year by folding Portfolio in April and Gourmet in October. “The September 2010 issue of Glamour is the largest in twenty-five years, Vogue is up a hundred pages in September from last year, and Vanity Fair is up almost a hundred pages.”
“The question in everyone’s mind with the economic downturn is how much of this is cyclical, and how much of it is some kind of long-term shift in the media business. I can’t pretend to know the answer; but in this year so far a fair portion is already showing itself to be merely cyclical. But we’re not back to the height of 2007.”
Meanwhile, last week Sports Illustrated released its own highly-hyped iPad app.
Its first issue (also at $4.99) includes a slideshow of photos from the Los Angeles Lakers championship celebration, as well as an eight-minute documentary about a high school baseball team from Macon, Ill. A single click in many places opens up all of a player’s stats--but only when you have an Internet connection. Unlike Wired, SI can only be read with wi-fi--partly to reduce the amount of space it takes up on your iPad.
But while all the big news for the future is digital, last week Rolling Stone proved you can still make big money in the magazine business the old-fashioned way--with a single, blockbuster story. Michael Hastings’ profile of runaway General Stanley McChrystal instantly made the venerable magazine the hottest thing on newsstands everywhere. Even though Rolling Stone almost immediately made the story available online--after Time magazine and Politico had briefly stolen it for their websites--an RS spokesperson told WWD that the new issue had already sold “at least five times the number we normally sell on newsstand, and that’s a conservative estimate.”
And with average single-copy sales of 104,855, that would mean a whopping 400,000 copy bonus for Jann Wenner from the current double issue--which will be on newsstands for a full month.
The President and his General.
Above the Fold
Update: Wednesday, 3:30 P.M.: The president took the necessary step of accepting General McChrystal’s resignation this afternoon, and he did so for exactly the right reason:
The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general. It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that’s necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.
Go here to read the full text of the President's remarks this afternoon.
For the best explanation of why this had to happen, see the great Bob Dallek on the op-ed page of today’s Times
For the dumbest of all on-air commentaries last night, see George Stephanopoulos on ABC's World News, as he blithely ignores all of the essential constitutional issues and declares, "if the president fires McChrystal, he risks looking thin-skinned and petulant.”
Equally bad: Martha Raddatz’s wet-kiss profile of the general on the same broadcast–exactly the kind of coverage which allowed McChrystal to be repeatedly promoted, long after he should have been fired–first for tolerating torture by his troops, and then for being at the heart of the cover-up of the killing of Pat Tillman by friendly fire.
The early headlines about Michael Hastings’s superb piece in Rolling Stone are all about the outright insubordination of General Stanley McChrystal and his staff, who openly belittled the president, the vice president, the American ambassador in Afghanistan, and the president’s special envoy to the region, Dick Holbrooke, during the month they spent in the company of the Rolling Stone reporter.
After the details from “The Runaway General” lit up the blogosphere this morning, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pointedly declined to say that McChrystal is safe in his post. If Barack Obama genuinely believes in one of the central tenets of American democracy–civilian control of the military--he will fire McChrystal when he shows up at the White House tomorrow to explain himself.
Here are some of the things McChrystal and his entourage told the Rolling Stone reporter about their civilian bosses and colleagues:
* When he first met Obama, McChrystal thought “he looked ‘uncomfortable and intimidated’ by the roomful of military brass,” and when he met him a second time, a McChrystal aide said the general was again disappointed because "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him."
* As he was about to deliver a speech at a French military academy, McChrystal and his staff joked about how he might deflect a question about the vice president: "Are you asking about Vice President Biden?" McChrystal says with a laugh. "Who's that?"
"Biden?" suggests a top adviser. "Did you say: Bite Me?"
* Like Biden, Karl Eikenberry, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, wisely opposed McChrystal’s demand for a troop surge. In a leaked telegram to Washington, Eikenberry dismissed Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai as "not an adequate strategic partner," and warned, "We will become more deeply engaged here with no way to extricate ourselves." McChrystal told Rolling Stone he felt “betrayed” by the leak, and added, "Here's one that covers his flank for the history books. Now if we fail, they can say, 'I told you so.' "
* A McChrystal aide called national security advisor Jim Jones “a clown” who remains “stuck in 1985.”
* McChrystal cringed upon receiving another e-mail from Dick Holbrooke, and another military aide quipped, “Make sure you don't get any of that on your leg.”
Hastings does a fine job of capturing the general’s aura in just a few sentences:
His slate-blue eyes have the unsettling ability to drill down when they lock on you. If you've fucked up or disappointed him, they can destroy your soul without the need for him to raise his voice.
"I'd rather have my ass kicked by a roomful of people than go out to this dinner," McChrystal says.
He pauses a beat.
"Unfortunately," he adds, "no one in this room could do it."
And this is how he describes McChrystal's entourage:
The general's staff is a handpicked collection of killers, spies, geniuses, patriots, political operators and outright maniacs. There's a former head of British Special Forces, two Navy Seals, an Afghan Special Forces commando, a lawyer, two fighter pilots and at least two dozen combat veterans and counterinsurgency experts. They jokingly refer to themselves as Team America, taking the name from the South Park-esque sendup of military cluelessness, and they pride themselves on their can-do attitude and their disdain for authority.
Hastings made a chilling discovery in the archives of a literary magazine at West Point to which McChrystal was a regular contributor. In a story by the young cadet called Brinkman's Note “the unnamed narrator appears to be trying to stop a plot to assassinate the president. It turns out, however, that the narrator himself is the assassin, and he's able to infiltrate the White House: ‘The President strode in smiling. From the right coat pocket of the raincoat I carried, I slowly drew forth my 32-caliber pistol. In Brinkman's failure, I had succeeded.’”
The immediate question today is how McChrystal and his staff could have been so dumb as to be so un-guarded in front of a reporter. The most Machiavellian explanation is that the general already realizes his mission is doomed, and therefore wants to be fired so that he can go home.
"It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win," Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal, told the Rolling Stone reporter. “This is going to end in an argument."
But the guess here is that McChrystal is so used to seducing reporters he never imagined that one might finally come along and tell the truth about him. In sharp contrast with Dexter Filkins' squishy-soft profile of the general in The New York Times Magazine last fall, Michael Hastings does not gloss over any of the details of McChrystal’s central role in the cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death by friendly fire, or the multiple abuses committed by his troops at the “Nama” base outside Afghanistan, where they routinely tortured prisoners, and festooned the base with signs reading "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL," which Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall reported in 2006 “reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: ‘If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it.’" (For more on all of this, see FCP’s McChrystal post from last October.)
NBC's Jim Miklaszewski and Richard Engel reported today that McChrystal may actually have been a victim of the volcanic eruption in Iceland. Hastings told the NBC men he was supposed to spend just two days with the general in Paris, but then he and his entourage got stranded by the volcano, and they ended up spending ten days with the reporter. “As the ash disrupted air travel, Hastings ended up being ‘stuck’ with McChrystal and his team for 10 days in Paris and Berlin. McChrystal had to get to Berlin by bus. Hastings says McChrystal and his aides were drinking on the road trip ‘the whole way.’"
But the new article’s details about McChrystal’s shortcomings are not the only reason that it is vastly superior to the piece Filkins wrote last fall. What is most important about the Rolling Stone article is the convincing evidence it presents of the utter hopelessness of the American effort in Afghanistan.
Hastings writes that McChrystal’s vaunted new counterinsurgency strategy, know as COIN
calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation's government – a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve."
"The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people," said Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. "The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.”
Although the White House refused to give the general a vote of confidence today, he did receive enthusiastic support from a handful of Afghan “experts.” A spokesman for President Hamid Karzai told the Associated Press that the Afghan leader thinks McChrystal "is a person of great integrity” and he hopes Obama will not replace him.
Karzai’s deeply corrupt half-brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, stongly supported the president’s position. He said McChrystal “is active. He is honest. He does a good job, a lot of positive things have happened since he has come."
And then there was this from Michael O’Hanlon, the senior fellow at Brookings who is one of the most craven and most consistent supporters of America’s permanent war. McChrystal made a big mistake, O’Hanlon told Politico, “but he is a fantastic general, and not only that but a modest man who is respectful of others...We need him, and Ambassador Eikenberry, for this effort, and I am confident knowing both men well that they can put these issues behind them for the greater good.”
On the other hand, Joe Scarborough--yes, that Joe Scarborough-- said, “This general has to be fired, he has to be gone by the end of the day, Gates and Petraeus have to come out and fire McChrysta.l"
Sens. John McCain, Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham also failed to support the general. They called McChrystal's comments "inappropriate and inconsistent with the traditional relationship between commander-in-chief and the military. The decision concerning Gen. McChrystal's future is a decision to be made by the president of the United States," they said.
Tomorrow we will learn whether the president has the guts to finally get rid of him.
Above the Fold
"I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday. I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown: in this case, a $20 billion shakedown."
--Congressman Joe Barton, Texas (R)
Let us now praise Congressman Joe Barton, representative of the 6th District of Texas, and the first Republican with the gumption to declare his supreme devotion to all corporations, foreign and domestic, now doing business in these United States.
Now it is a fact that big business regularly rents the sentiments of congressional Democrats. But it is also a fact that corporate America owns the Republican party–lock, stock and (oil) barrel. That was why it was so refreshing to finally hear a Republican publicly declare the love that (normally) dares not speak its name.
Of course the House Republican leadership was appalled by this dangerous burst of candor, and immediately threatened Barton with the loss of his position as the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee unless he immediately put this corporate cat back into its bag.
That was the only reason Barton retracted his remarks in the afternoon, making his previous statement “inoperable,” just the way the Nixon White House regularly did during Watergate, three-and-a-half decades ago.
Meanwhile, the un-elected Republican establishment left no doubt that Barton’s first statement was the true Republican boilerplate, rather than the retraction that followed.
* Pat Buchanan: “Barton made a very courageous statement in my judgment..To have anyone stand up and even indirectly defend [BP] and say that they were a victim of a shakedown shows some political courage.”
* Laura Ingraham: “I think Joe Barton, before he apologized, had a legitimate point...This administration has taken a very aggressive and strong arm approach to industry across the board.”
* Fox commentator Andrew Napolitano: “That is a classic shakedown. The threat to do something that you do not have the authority to do. ”
* Newt Gingrich: “That a president is directly engaged in extorting money from a company.... What it says to the world is be very careful about investing in the United States because the political class may take the money away from you.”
* The Wall Street Journal editorial page: "Meanwhile, BP's agreement sets a terrible precedent for the economy and the rule of law, particularly for future industrial accidents or other corporate controversies that capture national outrage. The default position from now on in such cases will be for politicians to demand a similar "trust fund" that politicians or their designees will control. There was in particular no reason for BP to compound its error and agree to spend another $100 million to compensate the oil workers sidelined by the Administration's policy choice to impose a drilling moratorium. BP had no liability for these costs, and its concession further separated its compensation from proper legal order. BP deserves to pay full restitution for the damage it has caused, but it ought to do so via legal means, not under what Texas Republican Joe Barton rightly called the pressure of "a shakedown" yesterday...BP at first sounded arrogant and now is so obsequious it won't even stand up for its legal rights. "
In the end, the Journal concluded, “it's hard to know who is more unlovable, BP or its Washington expropriators.”
This wonderfully rational notion from Gingrich--that unless the Obama administration stops beating up on the big corporations, they will take all of their marbles away and simply abandon the biggest economy of the world--is exactly what you would expect from the idiot talking heads like Gingrich whom Fox News (and too often, Meet the Press) are so addicted to.
On the other hand, one doesn't expect this idea to be embraced by the chief Washington correspondent of the The New York Times. The week the Obama administration finally responded to the Gulf crisis with an action which was dramatic, substantial, and genuinely great--forcing BP to guarantee that it would pay at least $20 billion to the victims of this catastrophe--Timesman David Sanger offered the very worst kind of “on the one hand, on the other hand news analysis” --a piece that inexplicably led the newspaper.
According to Sanger, Barton’s farcical apology (his first one) had given “voice to an alternative narrative, a bubbling certainty in corporate suites that Mr. Obama, whenever faced with crisis that involves private-sector players, reveals himself to be viscerally antibusiness.” Sanger then followed up with a quote from a former Clinton official about how Obama risked losing the big companies he needed to revive the economy. This made the “alternative narrative” sound like a serious idea--instead of right-wing Republican claptrap coming mostly from the likes of Gingrich and Ingraham.
Although Sanger never quoted Gingrich in his story, the Times reporter ended by echoing him, with this ludicrous conclusion: Obama “will have to avoid painting with such a broad brush that foreign and domestic investors come to view the United States as a too risky place to do business, a country where big mistakes can lead to vilification and, perhaps, bankruptcy.”
WHEN TEXANS LIKE JOE BARTON DISTINGUISH THEMSELVES BY APOLOGIZING to a foreign oil company which has just caused the greatest domestic environmental catastrophe of the 21st Century, FCP immediately asks: “What would Molly Ivins say?”--if only she were still with us to comment on the Congressman’s shenanigans.
Fortunately, Ivins’ clips tell us exactly how she viewed the great Congressman from the 6th District. Three and a half years ago, Ivins wrote of her delight about the way Congressman Barton was reaching out to some of his more prosperous constituents:
He's going to spend next weekend aboard a private train with lobbyists who pay $2,000 for the privilege. After a seven-hour run from Fort Worth to San Antonio, there will be cocktails, an evening tour of the Alamo, dinner and breakfast on Sunday.
The Dallas Morning News reports the invitation reads, "During the ride, we'll have lots of time to talk, play some Texas Hold 'Em, and enjoy some great down home Texas food. This is about as good as it gets."
It's the delicatesse of the invite that I appreciate, and I think the price is right, too — only $2K for hours of uninterrupted access to the chairman whose committee has jurisdiction over about half of what Congress does — including oil policy, pro baseball, Medicare and environmental regulation.”
The year before that, Ivins applauded a
“no-cost sweetener to encourage oil and gas companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico -- and who needs more encouragement these days than the oil companies? The poor things are making hardly any money at all. Just have the federal government waive the royalty rights for drilling in the publicly owned waters. Turns out this waiver will cost the government at least $7 billion over the next five years.”
And who was the prime mover behind this great good government move: Joe Barton, naturellement.
I roared with laughter upon reading that Texas Rep. Joe Barton had assured his colleagues the provision of energy bill was "so non-controversial" that senior House and Senate negotiators had not even discussed it. That's one of the oldest ploys in the Texas handbook of sneaky tricks and has been successfully used to pass many a sweet deal for the oil industry.
"The big lie about this whole program is that it doesn't cost anything," Massachusetts Rep. Edward Markey told The New York Times. "Taxpayers are being asked to provide huge subsidies to oil companies to produce oil -- it's like subsidizing a fish to swim."
All of which reminds us of one more sorry fact: Ivins was much more reliable about the inner workings of Washington than most of the reporters who live there.
Fortunately, we still have non-Washington reporter Jon Stewart to sum things up for us:
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Day 59 - Judgment Day - The Strife Aquatic|
Above the Fold
On May 25th John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil, was invited into the New York studio of NBC’s Nightly News to make a striking proposal. Brian Williams introduced the retired executive’s plan this way: “You’re an advocate of something that has worked in the Arabian Gulf, which is surrounding it with super tanker ships.”
Hofmeister replied, “There was an unpublicized spill, in the early ‘90's in the Arabian gulf, where there was so much oil–far larger than anything we’ve seen in this country–where a fleet of supertankers was put to work with powerful pumps inside these supertankers to both pull in oil, and push it out. Depending on the need. You can take these supertankers in formation, take water and oil together off the surface, a million barrels per copy, go unload it in tanks, separate the water and the oil, discharge the water back into the sea. I think we should be seriously considering some kind of tank formation, with three, four five supertankers, get this oil off the surface, so it doesn’t wash up into the wetlands.”
It was a striking idea–exactly the kind of bold proposal the White House had failed to come up with, the sort of thing which–if it actually worked–might obliterate the ghost of impotence which so far has shadowed all of the efforts to contain the disastrous spill in the Gulf.
So it seemed perfectly logical, a couple of days later, when ABC’s Jake Tapper included the tanker issue in his question to the president at his White House press conference:
“You say that everything that could be done is being done, but there are those in the region and those industry experts who say that's not true....There are industry experts who say that they're surprised that tankers haven't been sent out there to vacuum, as was done in '93 outside Saudi Arabia.”
The president ignored that part of Tapper’s question, and so the question lingered–why wasn’t the administration pursuing this bold move?
When Brian Williams solicited “frequently asked questions” about the disaster from his viewers, FCP replied with this one:
“What has the administration said in response to the retired Shell president on your air who said a flotiilla of super tankers should be deployed to suck up the oil? The president was asked about it at his press conference but never answered. What has NBC done to get an answer?”
FCP’s inquiry seems to have reached Williams’s personal producer, and may have sparked the first serious effort by the news organization to answer this question.
Apparently, it didn’t take very long to find the answer: the consensus of most experts is that the super-tanker suck-up strategy only works on extremely contained oil spills–and therefore isn’t a practical approach to the vastly dispersed catastrophe in the gulf. This news became part of the Nightly evening news budget–but then got cut for time around 5:30 PM.
However, Williams still had the perfect opportunity to set the record straight and resolve the mystery of why the administration had apparently rejected the supertanker recommendation, because the ex-Shell president was back on the broadcast that night. But instead of challenging Hofmeister’s plan with the new information gathered by NBC’s staff, Williams greeted Hofmeister this way:
“When you were last on the air with us I asked you about the idea that some have proffered about surrounding it with supertankers--you said it wouldn’t work with this kind of spill.”
That, of course, was the exact opposite of what Hofmeister had said. Why did Williams exonerate his guest by re-inventing his original statement, instead of challenging him on it or asking him to retract it?
FCP put that question in e-mails to Nightly executive producer Bob Epstein and senior broadcast producer Aurelia Grayson, as well as Williams’s personal producer Subrata De, NBC spokesperson Summer Wilkie, and NBC Washington bureau chief Mark Whitaker.
Having heard nothing back from anyone at NBC, after twenty-two hours FCP telephoned Summer Wilkie’s office, to make one more effort to determine whether anyone thought it mattered that the managing editor of Nightly had said something flatly false on the air. Finally, at 2:14 today, Williams issued this statement to FCP:
“I made an honest mistake while anchoring from the field and interviewing John Hoffmeister [sic] via remote. He had appeared on our broadcast before–I confused his view on supertanker efficacy with that of a previous guest. I’ve apologized to John.”
A spokesman for Williams said he would acknowledge this error on his blog sometime Tuesday–but that would still leave nearly all of the viewers of Nightly in the dark. On the air would be the proper place for this correction.
MEANWHILE, OVER AT THE NEW YORK TIMES, the letters department was tying itself in knots, trying to straighten out the latest prevarication of David Blakenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, and star opponent of marriage equality last winter in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the constitutional challenge to California’s ban on gay marriage being brought by David Boies and Theodore Olson.
Blakenhorn was eviscerated in that trial on cross-examination by Boies, who, among other things, elicited the fact that this so-called “marriage-expert” had never taught a single course at any college or university, had no degrees in anthropology, psychology or sociology–and whose only peer-reviewed paper was a study of two cabinetmakers’ unions in 19th-century Britain.
Boies also deepened the mystery surrounding Blakenhorn’s opposition to gay marriage, after getting the witness to acknowledge that he believes “that adopting same-sex marriage would be likely to improve the well-being of gay and lesbian households and their children,” that “the principal of human dignity musty apply to gay and lesbian persons,” and, finally “that we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were the day before.” Apparently, Blankenhorn would prefer us to remain less American.
Money may actually be the answer for why Blankenhorn offered himself as an expert witness opposed to gay marriage, but more on that later.
Like every other opponent of marriage equality, Blankenhorn has been desperate to distance himself from George Rekers, another so-called expert in this field, ever since Rekers was caught by Miami New Times returning from a ten day jaunt in Europe with a 20-year-old companion he had found for himself on rentboy.com.
This was more than a little embarrassing, since Rekers has spent most of his professional life arguing that homosexuality is a curable disease–and he was a co-founder with James Dobson of the Family Research Council, a major force within the religious right, and one of the most virulently homophobic institutions in America.
Rekers may have made more money than anyone as an expert witness for bigotry, having collected $200,000 from the state of Florida for his testimony in support of a state law banning adoptions by gay people, and another $60,000 for his appearance at a similar case in Arkansas.
So naturally, Blakenhorn was mortified when Frank Rich pointed out that a court document filed in the California case revealed that the star witness had read one of Mr. Rekers homophobic screeds before offering his “expert” testimony.
Rushing to protect his reputation, Mr. Blankenhorn simply ignored the naked fact of his Rekers connection, and dispatched a letter to the Times declaring, “I have never met Mr. Rekers or read any of his writings...This matter is particularly important to me, since in my report to the court, as well as in my testimony on the stand, I clearly and emphatically rejected the anti-gay views that Mr. Rekers has apparently expressed.”
The trouble was, as Mr. Blankenhorn revealed in his own blog, thirteen days after his letter to the Times was published, Mr. Blankenhorn had read one of Mr. Rekers reports--and Mr. Blankenhorn had actually sworn to that fact in a deposition taken by opposing attorneys.
That fact, Blankenhorn wrote, was also “reported to the court in a separate document...containing a list of everything that I as an expert witness had ‘considered’ in preparing for my role in the case.’”
When some alert reader at the Times noticed this posting, a letters editor asked Blankenhorn to write a new letter, correcting the previous one, in which he had falsely accused Frank Rich and the author of a news story on the same subject of making a connection Mr. Blankenhorn had pretended did not exist.
In other words, when you write a letter that directly contradicts your own sworn deposition, the Times will ask you to write another letter correcting yourself. What will they think of next?
In the hope of clarifying some of Mr. Blankenhorn’s motives, FCP e-mailed him, asking what kind of checking Mr. Blankenhorn had done before sending his first furious letter, and how much he had been paid for his testimony in the California trial.
Mr. Blankenhorn declined to answer any of FCP’s questions.
FCP regrets Mr. Blankenhorn’s silence, because it makes it impossible to answer one more important question: Has Mr. Blankenhorn’s career as an expert witness been as profitable as Mr. Rekers’ was?
Above the Fold
Second Update: History In the Making: (11:36 PM Thursday) So far, the Service Chiefs are getting exactly the attention they deserve: none. In an historic action, the House of Representatives voted today 234 to 194 to repeal the loathsome policy which has forbidden gays and lesbians from serving openly for decades. Two hundred and twenty-nine Democrats and 5 Republicans voted in favor; 168 Republicans and 26 Democrats voted against. Bravo! to Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennslylvania, the Iraqi veteran who led the fight in the house. And kudos to Joe Lieberman and Carl Levin in th Senate, who achieved the same result in the Senate Armed Services Committee, by a vote of 16 to 12.
“Bottom line,” said Joe Lieberman, “thousands of service members have been pushed out of the U.S. military not because they were inadequate or bad soldiers, sailors, Marines or airmen but because of their sexual orientation. And that’s not what America is all about.”
Which proves that if you live long enough, you can hear anything--even a noble statement from the Independent Senator from Connecticut.
Update: (1:07 AM Thursday): In act as despicable as it is extra-constitutional, the chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Marines wrote letters to Senator John McCain late yesterday, directly challenging the position of the President, the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, all of whom have endorsed the compromise legislation before Congress to repeal don’t ask don’t tell.
In the letters solicited by McCain, the chiefs asked Congress to delay voting on the bill until after the Pentagon completes its wholly superfluous review of the current, disastrous policy.
Together with everything else he has said and done this year, this action makes McCain as craven as any other slave of the lunatic fringe of his party.
If anything like this had happened when Harry Truman was president, Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James T. Conway, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Naval Chief of Operations Admiral Gary Roughead would surely have been fired for outright insubordination.
Former Joint Chiefs Chairman John M. D. Shalikashvili immediately fired back at the Service Chiefs in a letter to Senators Carl Levin and Joe Lieberman. Shalikashvili wrote “there is nothing in these letters that gives Congress any reason to delay enacting the legislative compromise that was proposed this week....It is not only preferable, but essential that 10 U.S.C. § 654 be repealed in order for the service chiefs to retain the very authority they require to do their jobs effectively.”
For the last time--please god!--there is no serious reason grounded in policy or politics to prevent gays and lesbians from serving openly in the United States military.
The current policy damages national security, baffles most soldiers under 30, has cost taxpayers $1.3 billion–and is opposed by at least 75 percent of American adults, according to recent polls for CNN and ABC and The Washington Post.
Will this be the week when the White House finally demonstrates that it has understood that?
So far, the indications are murky at best. Although the White House did sign off on a compromise which would allow Congress to repeal the current law–but let the president decide exactly when that repeal will take effect–it announced its support in the most tepid way possible.
As Kerry Eleveld pointed out at advocate.com, “Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag joined Defense Secretary Robert Gates in saying that ‘ideally’ the Pentagon’s study would be completed prior to a vote. But since ‘Congress has chosen to move forward with legislation now,’ Orszag conceded the proposed amendment “meets the concerns” that have been voiced by Defense secretary Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”
That's a position that puts the White House several steps behind Senator Joe Lieberman on an issue of common sense and fundamental human justice. Several steps behind Lieberman isn’t a bad place for the White House to be on this subject--it’s a humiliating and disgraceful place.
Barack Obama promised dozens of times during the presidential campaign that he would repeal this idiotic policy, and repeated that promise in his most recent State of the Union message–promises which prompted Jon Stewart to point out that “‘yes we can’ doesn’t mean that we will.”
Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Mike Mullen gave courageous testimony last February calling for repeal of the policy, and declaring, “the great young men of our military can and would accommodate such a change--I never underestimated their ability to adapt.” And speaking to graduating Air Force Cadets today, Mullen reiterated: "Few things are more important to an organization than people who have the moral courage to question the direction in which the organization is going--and then the strength of character to support whatever final decisions are made.”
Meanwhile, three openly gay officers from Holland, Sweden and Great Britain ridiculed the current policy in a piece in Politico. Among their points:
* Though we maintain a respect for the American people, their military and political process, we share a sense of puzzlement — and a sort of shock — at the rhetoric we heard surrounding "Don't ask, don't tell."..We are aware of colleagues in our own militaries who don't like it that gays and lesbians serve openly. However, despite considerable fears before we enacted these policies, such attitudes are rare.
* Moral opposition to homosexuality, while real, is just not allowed to undercut our militaries' missions. Nor do we think it will have any impact on yours after you repeal "Don't ask, don't tell."
*This is an important point, because many Americans seem to believe that ending anti-gay discrimination in European and Israeli militaries faced no resistance because our cultures are more tolerant. In fact, our polls, rhetoric and even threats of mass resignations were quite similar to the continuing resistance in America. Yet none of the doomsday scenarios came true.
And as anyone with regular contact with modern American officers will tell you, many field grade officers think the ban should be lifted, and virtually all of them recognize that most of today's younger troops see nothing wrong with openly gay service. The climate is very different today from what it was in the early 1990s.
It is time for Barack Obama to prove once and for all that he realizes that discrimination against gay people is just as heinous as discrimination against African-Americans–and to show the same kind of gumption that Harry Truman demonstrated when he integrated the Armed Forces after World War II.
Idiots like Republican congressman Mike Pence say "the American people don't want the American military to be used to advance a liberal political agenda”--but 75 percent of the American public say they disagree with him. As Rachel Maddow asked last night, “Do 75 percent of the people even believe that the earth is round?”
The most courageous man in this fight has been Patrick Murphy, an Iraq veteran and a Pennsylvania Congressman who has fought tirelessly to get the current law repealed. Passage of the reform law in the House this week seems likely. The outcome in the Senate Armed Services Committee remains in doubt.
Aaron Belkin and Nathaniel Frank have spent most of the last decade laying the intellectual groundwork for this change. "If this goes through the Senate, this is going to be historic," Belkin told FCP today. "Forecasting is an inexact science but hopefully we will have reason to celebrate soon."
Since the passage of health care reform, we have known that this White House is capable of twisting arms on Capitol Hill when it thinks it is necessary. Now is the time for Barack Obama to prove to his progressive constituency that at least some of their ideals still matter to him. Late this afternoon, Senator Ben Nelson announced his support for the compromise--a very good sign indeed.
But if the president fails to convince the Senate to pass the necessary amendment to the Defense appropriations bill this week–an amendment supported by three quarters of the public–none of us should ever forgive him.
Above the Fold
The next day, the Times reported that his best-financed Republican opponent, Linda McMahon--the former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, who promises to spend up to $50 million of her own money in the campaign--had taken credit for feeding the story about Blumenthal to the Times.
“Ms. McMahon’s campaign sought to claim credit for aspects of The Times’s article, apparently in a bid to impress Republican delegates that her resources would give her the greatest chance of defeating Mr. Blumenthal, who had seemed invincible,” David M. Halbfinger and James Barron write in today’s paper.
All of which left this reader with one glaring question: Was it true that the Times was prompted to do this hatchet job on Blumenthal by one of the candidate’s mortal enemies?
If McMahon’s campaign was the source of the original story, it probably made a deal with the reporter to shield its identity. But once the story had appeared and her campaign had taken credit for it on its own website, clearly the Times was no longer bound by any such agreement. So why did it report that she “sought to take credit for aspects of The Times article”–but then failed to tell the reader whether she really was the source or not?
FCP telephoned Times metropolitan editor Joe Sexton, and was told that he was off for the day. Then David Halbfinger told FCP he would “not be interviewed for a blog,” and referred FCP to the metro political editor, Carolyn Ryan. James Barron also referred FCP to Ryan; then Barron went off the record--to refuse to provide FCP with Ryan’s e-mail address. By happy coincidence, ten minutes later, FCP received an e-mail from another Times editor which just happened to include Ryan’s address.
FCP then left a voicemail for Ryan, and followed up with an e-mail, both of which were apparently passed to Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty, who wrote FCP: “As a matter of general policy, The Times does not discuss sourcing for its stories. The reporting about AG Blumenthal’s Vietnam War era service was based on many sources and countless hours of research.”
Of course, the truth is, a reporter’s first obligation is to reveal as much as he can in his own story about who his sources are–which is why the paper requires every reference to an anonymous source to include an explanation of why the source needed to be anonymous.
In any case, McNulty’s statement ignored the fact that the author of the original Times story, Ray Hernandez, had discussed the sourcing of his story on the Brian Lehrer Show on NPR yesterday, when Hartford political reporter Colin McEnroe pressed him on whether or not McMahon’s campaign had been his original source.
“In general I don’t discuss this level of detail” about his sources, Hernandez said. Pressed again, Hernandez said, “Did this story have its origins in the McMahon campaign? The answer is no. This story was the product of independent, dogged reporting.” But then Hernandez seemed to undercut his own denial when he added, “So, the point of the question is what? Does it mean what you see or reading is not so?"
As one former top editor of The Times e-mailed FCP this evening, “Hernandez on Brian Lehrer sounds very lame--unprepared to deal with the sourcing issue.” And another former top editor of the paper agreed that it was outrageous for the Times not to tell its readers in its own story whether or not McMahon was its source–especially after reporting that her campaign had said that it was.
It is certainly true that on one occasion–and only one occasion which the Times could document–Richard Blumenthal did say the words "I served in Vietnam." And a couple of other times he said ambiguous things about his service in the Marine Corps Reserves that might or might not imply that he served in Indochina. But it is also true that during a debate with another Senate candidate, Blumenthal made it clear that he had not served in Vietnam.
Today a new Ramussen poll showed Blumenthal's support plummeting because of the Times story. But many of Hartford’s most senior political reporters said they had never heard Blumenthal misrepresent his military service.
For example, on Hartford’s Channel 8 tonight, the station’s veteran political reporter, Mark Davis, declared, “I’ve covered him for 30 years and I’ve never, ever heard him say he served in Vietnam.”
In a post on the Harford Courant website, Colin McEnroe–who is another widely-respected political reporter–made the following points, all of which FCP heartily agrees with:
* Raymond Hernandez's story is paper-thin and overplayed. No question, he's got one video clip in which Blumenthal says he was in Vietnam. And he's got, five years earlier, a quote attributed to Blumenthal where he says "we" in way that's at least open to multiple interpretations. And that's it. That -- and those recollections by Jean Risley who has apparently repudiated the Times's reporting -- are the whole basis for his huge above-the-fold page one story. In all the other times that Blumenthal put his military service on the record, as far as I can tell, he's been truthful about who he was. Certainly, in his debate with Merrick Alpert, he clearly said he did not serve in Vietnam.
* If Blumenthal can produce extensive evidence that he's been truthful, repeatedly, about his service record, it would be fair to ask whether the Times has taken one stumble or slip of the tongue and turned it into a page one story alleging, without really proving, a pattern of deception.
* I'm disturbed by the divergence in accounts between the McMahon campaign and Hernandez about where this story came from. Hernandez's defensiveness with me on the Brian Lehrer show was odd, especially his insistence that he does not discuss in detail how he gets his stories. I thought the drift of the Times, post-Jayson Blair, favored full disclosure of sources unless there were a material reason for letting them go off the record. Certainly the McMahon campaign doesn't seem to have considered itself off the record.
* Some of you asked whether the provenance of the information matters. It's not the primary issue in this story, but it does matter. The SPJ Code of Ethics is clear that the motivation of sources matters. I think there's a difference between a story that is the fruit of hundreds and maybe thousands of hours of opposition research, combing tapes and transcripts for a Blumenthal slip-up, and a story that evolves organically in the way Hernandez is claiming this one did, after he "had heard varying stories" about Blumenthal's inflation of his record.
And then there is this. Hernandez wrote in his piece that "in early1968" President Johnson "abolished nearly all graduate deferments and sharply increased the number of troops sent to Southeast Asia." But only half of that statement is true.
Johnson did abolish nearly all graduate deferments--but LBJ (very famously) rejected William Westmoreland's request for 206,000 additional troops, on top of the 510,000 already serving in Vietnam in March of 1968. Instead, Johnson withdrew from the race for the presidency, and approved only 13,500 additional troops for the war--an increase of less than 3 percent over the number already there in March of 1968.
On this point, Times night metro editor Peter Khoury told FCP, “I spoke with Ray Hernandez, who provided me with figures showing the number of US troops in Veitnam went from 485,000 at the end of 1967 to 536,100 at the end of 1968, an increase of more than 10 percent. We feel the wording was appropriate.”
Whether or not a 10 percent increase is "sharp increase," there's another problem with Khoury's statement: According to The New York Times of October 9, 1967, the number of troops in Vietnam at that moment was 500,000--not the 485,000 Hernandez told his editor.
You could look it up--in your own archive.
Martha Ritter contributed essential reporting from Hartford.
Update: Colin McEnroe is now reporting that he has heard from nine senior Connecticut reporters today--all of whom said they had either heard Blumenthal describe his military service correctly, or, they had never heard him say he had served in Vietnam. Just one photographer remembered things differently.
The week’s Biggest Winners: 60 Minutes producers Solly Granatstein and Graham Messick, and correspondent Scott Pelley, for the most revealing story anywhere about the catastrophic oil rig explosion in the Gulf.
It’s a very rare event, nowadays, when a network news division scoops everybody else on the biggest story of the moment, but that’s exactly what 60 Minutes did last night, when it found two key people who could blow the Deepwater Horizon story wide open. 60 Minutes did not draw this conclusion, but the implication of criminal malfeasance by BP permeated the broadcast.
Mike Williams was the chief electronics technician, working for Transocean on the rig, and he exudes the kind of all-American-Atticus-Finch-authenticity that makes him a uniquely credible witness. He was also one of the last men to leave the rig alive. His appearance on the double-length 60 Minutes segment was edge-of-your-seat television from start to finish. According to the overnights, 11.5 million viewers tuned in.
Williams said he was pinned down by two different three-inch-thick, steel, fire-rated doors–after each of them was blown off its six stainless steel hinges by successive explosions on the rig–before he finally managed to get outside and jump one hundred feet into the ocean.
After he hit the water, Williams thought, “I must have burned up, 'cause I don't feel anything, I don't hear anything, I don't smell anything. I must be dead.' And I remember a real faint voice of, 'Over here, over here.' I thought, 'What in the world is that?' And the next thing I know, he grabbed my lifejacket and flipped me over into this small open bow boat. I didn't know who he was, I didn't know where he'd come from, I didn't care. I was now out of the water.”
But just as dramatic as Williams’ survival is his account of the successive mishaps on board the giant rig that led inexorably to the final catastrophe. These were the story’s key findings:
* The tension in every drilling operation is between doing things safely and doing them fast; time is money and this job was costing BP a million dollars a day. With the schedule slipping, Williams says a BP manager ordered a faster pace–bumping up the rate of penetration of the ocean floor.
*Going faster caused the bottom of the well to split open, swallowing tools and the drilling fluid called "mud." "We actually got stuck. And we got stuck so bad we had to send tools down into the drill pipe and sever the pipe," Williams explained. That well was abandoned and Deepwater Horizon had to drill a new route to the oil. It cost BP more than two weeks and millions of dollars
* Williams says there was an accident on the rig that has not been reported before. Four weeks before the explosion, the rig's most vital piece of safety equipment, its blowout preventer, or BOP, was damaged.
* The BOP is used to seal the well shut in order to test the pressure and integrity of the well, and, in case of a blowout, it's the crew's only hope. A key component is a rubber gasket at the top called an "annular," which can close tightly around the drill pipe.
* While the BOP was shut tight, a crewman on deck accidentally nudged a joystick, applying hundreds of thousands of pounds of force, and moving 15 feet of drill pipe through the closed blowout preventer. Later, a man monitoring drilling fluid “discovered chunks of rubber in the drilling fluid.”
* Williams asked the supervisor if the chunks of remember were unuusal, and he said, “‘Oh, it's no big deal.'" And Williams thought, "How can it be not a big deal? There's chunks of our seal is now missing.”
*The BOP is operated from the surface by wires connected to two control pods; one is a back-up. Williams says one pod lost some of its function weeks before the explosion.
* A representative of Transocean was explaining how they were going to close the well when the manager from BP interrupted. "I had the BP company man sitting directly beside me," Williams remembered. "And he...said, 'Well, my process is different. And I think we're gonna do it this way.' And they kind of lined out how he thought it should go that day. So there was short of a chest-bumping kind of deal.”
* Several BP managers were on the Deepwater Horizon for a ceremony to congratulate the crew for seven years without an injury. While they where there, a surge of explosive gas came flying up the well from three miles below. The rig's diesel engines, which power its electric generators, sucked in the gas and began to run wild. After that there were “take-your-breath-away type explosions, shake your body to the core explosions. Take your vision away from the percussion of the explosions."
* 60 Minutes asked Dr. Bob Bea, a professor of engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, to analyze Williams’ story. The White House has also asked Bea to analyze the Deepwater Horizon accident. Bea previously investigated the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster for NASA and Hurricane Katrina for the National Science Foundation.
* "According to Williams, when parts of the annular start coming up on the deck someone from Transocean says, ‘Look, don't worry about it.' What does that tell you?" Pelley asked Bea.
"Houston, we have a problem," Bea replied.
* "So if the annular is damaged, if I understand you correctly, you can't do the pressure tests in a reliable way?" Pelley asked.
"That's correct,” Bea explained. "You may get pressure test recordings, but because you're leaking pressure, they are not reliable."
*In finishing the well, the plan was to have a subcontractor, Halliburton, place three concrete plugs, like corks, in the column. The Transocean manager wanted to do this with the column full of heavy drilling fluid - what drillers call "mud" - to keep the pressure down below contained. But the BP manager wanted to begin to remove the "mud" before the last plug was set. That would reduce the pressure controlling the well before the plugs were finished.
*Asked why BP would do that, Bea told Pelley, "It expedites the subsequent steps."
"It's a matter of going faster," Pelley remarked.
"Faster, sure," Bea replied.
Bea said BP had won that argument.
* "If the 'mud' had been left in the column, would there have been a blowout?" Pelley asked.
"It doesn't look like it," Bea replied.
*Weeks before the disaster they know they are drilling in a dangerous formation, the formation has told them that," Pelley remarked.
"Correct," Bea replied.
"And has cost them millions of dollars. And the blowout preventer is broken in a number of ways," Pelley remarked.
"Correct," Bea replied.
* Asked what would be the right thing to do at that point, Bea said, "I express it to my students this way, 'Stop, think, don't do something stupid.'"
* They didn't stop. As the drilling fluid was removed, downward pressure was relieved; the bottom plug failed. The blowout preventer didn't work. And 11 men were incinerated. One hundred and fifteen crewmembers survived.
The Bottom Line:
Who is responsible for the Deepwater Horizon accident?
Bea said, "BP."
Winners: Stephen Colbert and veteran Daily Show correspondent Lewis Black for doing what the mainstream press consistently fails to do: giving Glenn Beck exactly the treatment he deserves. Black focuses on Beck's Nazi Tourette Syndrome, while Colbert describes Beck's pornographic plan to gather his supporters on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial next August--on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
See them both below:
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Glenn to the Mountaintop|
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's|
Above the Fold
President Barack Obama has nominated Solicitor General Elena Kagan to be the 112th justice of the United States Supreme Court. If the Senate confirms her--which today seems highly likely--she will also be the third woman, the third Jew, and the fourth New Yorker among the current justices.
Kagan is acknowledged by nearly all sentient beings to be a brilliant lawyer, an extraordinary teacher, an impressive scholar, one of the most successful deans in the history of the Harvard Law School, and an extremely competent solicitor general.
Presidents naturally gravitate toward people whom they fell comfortable with; and Obama obviously sees a great deal of himself in a highly intelligent, fiercely disciplined, and unabashedly ambitious lawyer who he has known since they were colleagues together at the University of Chicago, almost twenty years ago.
Barack was famous for bringing harmony to the Harvard Law Review; Elena is famous for bringing harmony to the Harvard Law School.
New York Times columnist David Brooks concedes that Kagan is, “smart, deft and friendly” and “a superb teacher” who “has the ability to process many points of view and to mediate between different factions.” But, according to Brooks, she is also “apparently prudential, deliberate and cautious.” And “strategic.”
Good god! A prudential, deliberate and cautious Supreme Court Justice. What could be more dangerous than that? Apparently not much, in the mind of the Times columnist, because he concludes his analysis by stating that “her willingness to suppress so much of her mind for the sake of her career, [is] kind of disturbing.”
In other words, because she has apparently wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice for a really long time (she’s already wearing robes in the photo of her in the Hunter College High School yearbook), she realized that her chances of reaching that goal would be greatly enhanced if there weren’t a hundred published opinions the Senate could grill her about when she was nominated. So she has been relatively reluctant to express herself.
This reticence has been twisted by Brooks and others into proof that she has never had any strong opinions (and actually “suppressed” her mind.) Then, over on the left, the usually estimable Glenn Greenwald, sees “disturbing risks posed by Kagan's strange silence on most key legal questions,” as well as “serious red flags raised by what little there is to examine in her record.” Greenwald has also asserted that Kagan’s appointment “would shift the Court substantially to the Right on a litany of key issues (at least as much as the shift accomplished by George Bush's selection of the right-wing ideologue Sam Alito to replace the more moderate Sandra Day O'Connor)”–a statement for which FCP frankly sees no convincing evidence whatsoever.
What we actually have here are knee-jerk conservatives like Brooks, who are eager to invent any impediment they can to prevent Kagan's confirmation, and knee-jerk liberals like Greenwald (who FCP usually admires), who may be making Kagan a vessel for all of their other disappointments with Obama, from his failure to get a public option included in the health care reform bill, to his embrace of some of the more egregious elements of George Bush’s anti-terrorism policies.
On Cable TV, of course, the reductum ad absurdum is already everywhere, with great Americans like Bay Buchanan regurgitating the right-wing talking-point du jour, which is that Kagan is exactly like Harriet Myers–“except for the Ivy League part.”
Jon Stewart explained what Buchanan said really meant: the two women are exactly the same “except for the dumb part.” Stewart added Tuesday night, “that’s just like saying the only difference between me and Michael Jordan is athletic ability.”
Stewart also boiled down soundbites from everyone from John Heilemann to Diane Sawyer into just two sentences: “She’s a reckless blank entity with no paper trail” and “She’s a short, chimney-smoking, beer-guzzling poker player.”
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Release the Kagan|
Of course, everything is relative, which means that some paperless trails are a good deal less paperless than others. So while it is true that Kagan has only published a handful of scholarly articles, it is also true that her article on Presidential Administration is 67,000 words long (How’s that for “mind suppression," Mr. Brooks?)
The heart of Kagan’s argument in that article is that Bill Clinton “made the regulatory activity of the executive branch agencies into an extension of his own policy and political agenda. He did so, primarily, by exercising directive authority over these agencies and asserting personal ownership of their regulatory activity--demonstrating in the process, against conventional wisdom, that enhanced presidential control over administration can serve pro-regulatory objectives.”
Enhancing presidential control to serve pro-regulatory objectives strikes FCP as a firmly progressive position, and even Greenwald concedes that “what Kagan was defending back then was many universes away from what Bush/Cheney ended up doing, and her defense of Clinton's theories of administrative power was nuanced, complex and explicitly cognizant of the Constitutional questions they might raise.”
But then, in the same post, Greenwald goes on to quote approvingly from Neal Katyal, (currently Kagan’s deputy) who, Greenwald wrote, “emphatically criticized Kagan's theories in that law review article as executive overreach and even linked them to the Bush/Cheney executive power seizures.” A link which FCP frankly finds preposterous.
Harper’s Scott Horton has been much more sensible than everyone else on the left about Kagan’s nomination. Horton has been just as vitriolic as Greenwald about Obama’s embrace of some elements of his predecessor’s anti-terrorism policies. And Horton is not unsympathetic to Greenwald's argument that "Obama has missed the opportunity to appoint a worthy successor to Stevens to lead the fight against rampaging executive power."
However, Horton also describes Kagan’s lengthy article on presidential administration as “a beautiful, extremely perceptive work, closely observed, brilliantly reasoned, and cautious. In it, Kagan notes the increase of presidential power as Congress builds the administrative and regulatory state. The powers that Congress vests in regulatory agencies are necessarily assumed and controlled by the president. Kagan writes as a detached observer, yet there is much to suggest her admiration for the evolution of the strong presidency in the period after World War II.”
Then Horton gets to the heart of the matter about Kagan's nominaton, and in the process ends up sounding more sensible than anyone else FCP has read on this subject so far:
The test is not whether Elena Kagan is the candidate each critic would have picked but whether she has the essential qualifications to be a justice of the Supreme Court and if so, whether she has any views on constitutional doctrine that are so far from the mainstream that they are disqualifying. Kagan will clearly pass this test, and civil libertarians need to get over their distrust of her capacity to listen to and understand conservatives with whom they disagree. That’s an admirable quality for a judge, and it will serve Kagan well on the Supreme Court.
That is also a quality which may enable Kagan to get Justice Anthony Kennedy to vote with the liberal bloc on the Court at least as often as Justice Stevens did. Since Kennedy's swing vote is the only thing that presently makes progressive decisions possible, that capacity is more important to the future direction of the Court than anything else.
Special thanks to FCP contributor SRS.
Update: As the estimable James Barron points out on the front page of Wednesday's New York Times, if Kagan is confirmed, Staten Island will be the only one of New York City's five boroughs without its own personal representative on the high court. “Kagan is so Manhattan, Scalia is so Queens, Ginsburg is so Brooklyn and Sotomayor is so Bronx,'” Joan Biskupic told The Times.
Above The Fold
Newsweek went on the block yesterday, four months after posting a $29.3 million loss in 2009, and thirty years after media “experts” started to predict the imminent demise of the modern news magazine.
If you’re not old enough to remember the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (February 9, 1964) you probably can’t remember a time when Newsweek really mattered.
But mattered it did–almost from the moment Ben Bradlee convinced Phil Graham to buy it for The Washington Post Co., right through the end of the 1970's. (FCP arrived there as its press critic in 1981, when it was still healthy, but no longer Important–at least, not the way it had been in its heyday.)
The secret to its early success was simple: it did a better job of capturing the Zeitgeist of the ‘60's than any other magazine except one–the Esquire produced by Harold Hayes. And with all the explosions and transformations of that amazing era, there had never been a better time to be a journalist in America.
When Phil Graham installed Oz Elliott as the chief editor of his newest acquisition, no one in Manhattan had bluer blood than Oz–his Dutch ancestor, Stephen Coerte van Voorhees, had reached New Amsterdam early in the 17th century. But Elliott quickly proved to be the ideal person to transform Newsweek into the perfect David to take on the Goliath of Time.
“Oz Elliott was the first editor I worked for,” remembered Lucy Howard, a Newsweek researcher who became a Washington correspondent and later Periscope editor–and who was FCP’s indispensable partner in the media department in the 1980's.
“He was a great leader,” Howard remembered. “He was a great newsman. He was curious, he was open; he could be tough, but he was very dedicated to what he was doing. He had a tremendous ability to balance competing interests and ideas–hence the term Wallendas”--as Newsweek’s top editors dubbed themselves, in homage to the high-wire circus act. (Hence, their offices were the “Wallendatorium.”)
“It was a juggling act, a balancing act,” Howard continued. “Oz knew his limitations as a WASP New Yorker, and he was smart enough to surround himself with Gordon Manning and Kermit Lansner”–the two men Elliott named as the executive editors immediately below him.
“''With Kermit, we had a Jewish intellectual from New York, and with Gordon, an Irish Catholic sportswriter from Boston, and in my case, a WASP from the Upper East Side,'' Elliott told The New York Times. ''It made for a wonderful balance.''
“It was three very different sensibilities that came together early on,” said Howard. “And each brought competing strengths. They fought; but because Oz was a really good leader, it all worked.”
“Oz was a lovely man,” Ben Bradlee told FCP today. “He was very good--very good with owners and very good with employees.” And he had one more crucial quality, which is especially unusual in a top editor: “He didn’t ignore little people,” said Howard. “He just didn’t. If you could help out, he appreciated you.”
In 1962, Elliott made his most important hire–a 29-year-old journeyman reporter from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat named Peter Goldman. That year Goldman had sent his clips to Newsweek, where they were promptly lost by Kermit Lansner. But Newsweek’s Nation department had slots for seven writers, and it was down to only three, so Gordon Manning had been searching for replacements.
As fate would have it, the same week Goldman arrived in New York on vacation, and phoned Newsweek for an interview, Manning had been on the phone with Bill Mauldin, the great cartoonist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who mentioned that Goldman was the best writer he knew in St. Louis. “I called,” Goldman remembered today, “and they said, we’ve been looking for you!”
The drinking habits of the ‘60's made famous by “Mad Men” were exactly the same for journalists as they were for ad men, so Goldman’s first big test was to survive two rounds of drinks at the New Westin Hotel with two different editors, the same day he was asked to write his first complicated story. When he proved he could drink and write at the same time, he was hired–and the extra Jack Daniels actually had helped him. It had given him the courage to up his salary demand to $11,500–and he got that sum, a hefty increase from the $8,000 he had been making in St. Louis.
After that, a combination of quiet conviction and gigantic journalistic talent quickly make Goldman the magazine’s conscience, and its number-one star.
To distinguish itself from Time, its heavily right-wing competitor, Newsweek had just launched a new ad campaign when Goldman arrived: “The one newsweekly that separates fact from opinion.” The slogan wasn’t true, but it was a huge success. “We did anything but,” Goldman remembered. “Certainly during the Civil Rights movement, we took sides–we were journalistes engagés.”
What they did was remarkably simple: they began to cover the news–with an energy and a fearlessness no modern weekly had shown before.
Goldman’s first big assignment was to write about the admission of James Meredith as the first black student at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi in the fall of 1962. Writers at Time were almost never sent into the field, but Newsweek was already experimenting with that idea.
Joe Cumming (from Georgia) was the magazine’s Atlanta bureau chief and Karl Fleming (from North Carolina) was his number two there. Bill Cook, Marv Kupfer and later, Vern Smith were other star civil rights reporters for the magazine–as well as the great Marshall Frady–“a South Carolina preacher's son and a crazed Faulknerian, who really got both sides of the story, black and white.”
“Joe Cumming was sort of a fragile, poetic soul,” Goldman continued, “old South but in a kind of Atticus Finch way, and Karl had spent his childhood in an orphanage.”
“Karl was kind of rough and tumble. His heart was totally with the movement and what were then the more militant elements, like SNCC and the younger SCLC kids; and totally fearless. He’d gone to places where a sane person wouldn’t go; the first time I met him was Ole Miss.”
“We went through a couple of really harrowing scrapes. There was tear gas from the Feds--a riot going on in this very large mall. We bumped into a Mississippi state trooper who was missing more teeth than you want to be missing, and he asked us who we were and we told him, which was dangerous. And he smiled at us, showing all these gaps, and said ‘You may proceed at your own risk.’”
“We parked the car outside the campus; and sort of made our way on foot on the periphery, and tear gas was getting too thick, so we ducked into a science building. Then we made our way to the administration building, which was where the Feds were headquartered.
“Karl and I were standing outside on the front steps, and between us was a wooden replica Greek column, and we heard some shots. And we looked up and there in the column, there was a row of four or five bullet holes. I suspect they were aimed at Karl because he was taller than I was, and the highest shot had hit right at his head level. I looked at him, and he said, ‘If I was James Meredith, I wouldn’t go to school with these bastards. And he looked so calm and so cool. And I told him that later and he said, ‘I was fucking terrified!’”
“I was down there Sunday and Monday, left on Tuesday and went back to New York. “It was my first cover story”–the first of thirty-five that Goldman would write about the black struggle in America. “I got my name in Top of the Week for the first time.”
In 1963, the magazine partnered with Lou Harris and did the first poll of black residents in the inner cities. Then in 1967, there was The Negro in America: What Must be Done, which Goldman wrote with Ed Kosner, Larry Martz and others. The cover was an abstract image of two black hands (which belonged to Newsweek photographer Jim Cummins), and inside there was an editorial--the magazine’s first–which offered a 12-point program to accelerate the progress of black Americans in American society.
In 1968, the magazine waded into the next great national debate, over Vietnam, and once again, it got things exactly right: “The war cannot be won by military means without tearing apart the whole fabric of national life and international relations. Unless it is prepared to indulge in the ultimate, horrifying escalation–the use of nuclear weapons–it now appears that the U.S. must accept the fact that it will never be able to achieve decisive military superiority in Vietnam.”
“Oz’s distinguishing mark to me was his conscience,” said Goldman--“his moral compass. To me he was like the old Progressives of the very late 19th and early 20th century–WASPS who were appalled at the way things were going in America, and as a matter of conscience involved themselves in politics. He set a tone for the place that made the ‘60's a fabulous experience for a young writer.”
Culturally, the magazine also had good antennae for the new–although it sometimes got things horribly wrong, even when they put them on the cover. The magazine was way ahead of Time when it put Bugs about Beatles on the cover a week after their Ed Sullivan appearance; but this time, the writer got everything backwards:
Visually they are a nightmare: tight, dandified, Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near-disaster: guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of "yeah, yeah, yeah!") are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments.
Its biggest early rock and roll scoop was revealing the fact that Bob Dylan had been born Robert Zimmerman–a story the fact checkers only allowed after forcing a reporter to obtain a copy of Dylan's birth certificate in Minnesota–a document FCP later discovered in the Newsweek archives, while researching 1968 In America.
For decades, Jack Kroll was the star of the culture department, along with movie critics Joe Morgenstern, Paul Zimmerman and later, David Ansen. Walter Clemons set the standard for book criticism in the magazine world. He was snapped up by Kroll after The New York Times failed to promote Clemons to daily book critic, because his colleague, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, had told Abe Rosenthal that Clemons was gay. To cover sports there was Pete Axthelm (who put Secretariat on the cover) and later Peter Bonventre. Axthelm had written his senior thesis at Yale about Dostoevsky, and one day a colleague asked him to explain the Russian novelist. “Oh,” said Pete, “he was a guy who placed a bet every day.”
In the 1970's, a whirlwind of energy and ideas named Maureen Orth arrived from the Village Voice to cover movies and rock and roll, and quickly produced cover stories on Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Francis Ford Coppola, John Denver, Tatum O’Neil (when she won the Oscar), Disco music, and–most famously–Bruce Springsteen. Ten days after she started to report the Springsteen story, Time decided to try to match it.
Orth had a novel approach for fending off Time: “I told Bruce it was going to hurt his career if he allowed them both to do it, because he wasn’t big enough yet. And it was true; it did hurt his career!” She also flew to the Philippines, took a two-and-half-hour bus trip and and one-hour boat ride to reach the set of Apocalypse Now. “I did the reporting and the writing and took the pictures,” Orth remembered today. And she discovered the film makers were “beginning to resemble the story they were making–they were using real dead bodies and all that stuff. Coppola didn’t speak to me for years after that. We sort of did investigative reporting for the culture department–and they weren’t used to that.”
Orth was one of the first beneficiaries of the suit charging discrimination filed by Newsweek women forty years ago. (Lynn Povich, one of the complainants, and the first woman senior editor at the magazine, is now writing a book about that suit for PublicAffairs.)
Cathleen McGuigan, who was culture editor from 1992 to 1999, said the treatment of women improved steadily during her tenure there.
“It was fairly enlightened; it got more enlightened; it kept getting better,” McGuigan told FCP today. Men like Maynard Parker (a top editor of Newsweek in the ‘90's) got divorced, and married strong women like Susan Fraker the second time around–women who had their own careers. It hadn’t been a place where you could put your children first. Later on, you worked incredibly har,d but if you had to go to your kid’s kindergarten on Friday morning for an hour, you could. Before Maynard had his second family, no one would have dreamed of leaving the office on a closing day.”
THE ECONOMIC DECLINE OF NEWS MAGAZINES started decades ago, when the three-sided pyramids which supported them–“butts, buggies and booze”--began to collapse. As the health risks of cigarettes become universally recognized, advertising for them began to go do more downscale publications. At the same time, hard liquor–unadvertised on televison at the time–was gradually displaced in popularity by wine and beer, which were staples of broadcast ads. That left only a declining car industry as a reliable supporter of the format.
In recent years the economic model has collapsed altogether: Newsweek is expected to lose $20 million this year, on top of operating losses of $29.3 million in 2009 and $16.1 million in 2008 for the Post Co.'s magazine division. As Jack Shafer noted, “Pummeling the magazine have been the recession, the accelerating decline in advertising (down 30 percent in 2009 from 2008 and off 40 percent in the first three months of 2010, according to Reuters), and a generational change in reading patterns.”
I’m not sure Shafer is right to say “Lack of editorial imagination isn't the culprit, either.” It is true that even under its current editor, Jon Meacham, Newsweek has had some excellent moments, including Voices of the Fallen, a chronological telling of the Iraq War through the letters of soldiers who had died there, and another cover called Voices of the Taliban, which told the story of the war in Afghanistan, from 9/11 onwards, from the perspective of Taliban fighters. It was reported by Newsweek veteran Ron Moreau, and Sami Yousefai, the magazine’s “super-stringer" in Afghanistan, who has amazing sources there. Its cover story about Eric Holder last July by Dan Klaidman was also way ahead of the news.
But it is also true that, under Meacham’s direction, Newsweek has become the dullest weekly read in America.
He may be living proof that it is impossible to edit a magazine, write two books, and co-host a weekly show on PBS (debuting this week), all at the same time. So if there really are billionaires in the wings who might actually make a bid for the magazine, the worst thing they could possibly do would be to keep Meacham in charge of it.
Ben Bradlee said today, "I wish I had the dough to buy it--and I was 20 years younger."
That would be the ideal solution.
Update: An exceptionally knowledgeable reader writes,
The editors didn't dub themselves the Wallendas; that was the sardonic coinage of a wonderful back-of-the-book writer named Leslie Hanscom. It started at some 12th-floor water-cooler in the old building at 444 Madison and spread like crazy; I confess to having been one of the spreaders. The Wallendas (or Wallies, as later generations called them) accepted and ultimately embraced the name, but they didn't invent it.
And: I think the ad slogan in the early 60s was "This magazine (not 'the newsweekly that') separates fact and opinion." Not a grave mistake--you have to be as old as me to remember that far back.
A postcript to the etymology of the term Wallenda at Newsweek: it was outlawed by Meacham early in his editorishoip. I guess it was beneath his dignity.
That certainly explains Mr. Meacham’s trajectory.
Second Update: When Newsweek still matters: usually when Mike Isiikoff is one of the reporters writing an important story from Washington like this one, co-authored by Michael Hirsh: How British oil giant BP used all the political mucle money can buy to fend off regulators and influence investigations into corporate neglect. And yet, the day after this story was posted on its website, it was nearly invisible on the Newsweek home page. (Jon Meacham's picture wasn't.)
Above the Fold
If you’re looking for one article that encapsulates everything that’s wrong about mainstream journalism in general and Washington journalism in particular, don’t miss Mark Leibovich’s 8,100 word love letter to Mike Allen on the cover of tomorrow’s New York Times Magazine.
The theme of the piece is that Allen’s Playbook on Politico is the new bible of the Washington establishment, the must-stop shopping spot in the morning for everyone who wants to know what is going to be “driving the conversation” in the nation’s capital that day. (Times readers seem to have been instantly convinced: Two days after Leibovich’s piece was posted on the Times website, Allen reported that 7,500 new subscribers had signed up for Playbook's morning e-mail.)
Allen has all the talents needed to make him a superstar on the Internet–he seems to work about 23 hours a day, he has a good eye for a telling detail, and his morning summary of the must-read stories in the MSM is as competent as anybody else’s. Serious analysis of an issue is not something he has ever excelled at--but that talent is completely irrelevant to his current craft.
Allen has no known personal life, apart from attending an endless round of Washington love fests, kissing women’s hands and sending flowers to almost every acquaintance on his or her birthday--in short, all of the talents honed for generations by great Washington PR men on all sides of the aisle, from Mike Deaver to Bob Strauss. As Leibovich puts it, “[Allen's]mannerisms resemble an almost childlike mimicry of a politician — the incessant thanking, deference, greetings, teeth-clenched smiles and ability to project belief in the purity of his own voice and motivations.”
Or as a former Allen colleague put it to FCP, “He lives to please authority”–which is probably the single worst quality a serious reporter can have.
Has Allen ever had a girl friend, or a boy friend? Apparently 8,000 + words weren’t enough to allow Leibovich to ask or answer those questions. For the record, Allen’s friends told FCP he has had a few, short-term girl friends, but he seems to get most of his emotional sustenance from the “nondenominational Protestant church and a Bible-study group” he belongs to, which Leibovich does manage to mention.
But even if you don’t think that one of the longest profiles you have ever read should tell you much of anything about the subject’s personal life, except for the fact that he is so secretive that most of his closest friends don’t even know his home address, that is far from the biggest failure of this piece.
While you do learn that “the political and news establishments love him,” that “the feeling is mutual and somewhat transactional,” and–according to Leibovich--“throughout his career, he has been known as an unfailingly fair, fast and prolific reporter,” what you don’t learn is the other side of the story: the fact that Allen is deeply loathed by the liberal blogosphere, for repeatedly acting as Dick Cheney’s stenographer, and for conducting an interview with then-president George W. Bush which prompted Dan Froomkin to ask on the Washington Post’s website, “Has there ever been a more moronic interview of a president of the United States than the one conducted yesterday by Mike Allen?"
Sample Allen fastball to Bush: “Now, Mr. President, you and the First Lady appeared on American Idol's charity show, Idol Gives Back. And I wonder who do you think is going to win? Syesha, David Cook, or David Archuleta?
To his credit, Leibovich does explain why his piece is so wholly inadequate, but not until you are 2,000 words into it:
I should disclose a few things: I have known Mike Allen for more than a decade. We worked together at The Washington Post, where I spent nine years and where I came to know VandeHei and Harris. We all have the same friends and run into each other a lot, and I have told them how much I admire what they have achieved at Politico. I like them all. In other words, I write this from within the tangled web of “the community.” I read Playbook every morning on my BlackBerry, usually while my copies of The New York Times and The Washington Post are in plastic bags. When Allen links to my stories, I see a happy uptick in readership. I have also been a source: after I “spotted” Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner at an organic Chinese restaurant in my neighborhood last year — picking up kung pao chicken with brown rice (“for Tim”) — I dutifully e-mailed Allen with the breaking news.
In other words, if Leibovich had the slightest notion of what someone as hopelessly old-fashioned as FCP considers journalistic “ethics,” he never would have considered himself qualified to write this profile for The New York Times Magazine. The even deeper mystery is why his editors didn’t realize that either. Or why they permitted this extraordinary display of boastful journalistic laziness:
“I asked Allen if I could talk to his siblings. He said he would consider it and maybe set up a conference call but never did. I did not press. It felt intrusive.”
So there you have it: never interview a members of a subject’s family, unless he produces them for you in a conference call!
For the record, FCP’s first instruction to every journalism student he has ever taught about how to write a profile is: never write one until you have interviewed at least one member of your subject’s immediate family. Whether or not you are being “intrusive” is not a question any serious journalist would ever ask himself in this circumstance. (On the other hand, asking the parent of the victim of an airplane crash, "How do you feel?" is another matter altogether.)
FCP does retain a faint hope that Leibovich did not actually do what he said he did, since the only important scoop in his piece is about Allen’s father, a person none of Allen’s friends seems to have known anything about, until Leibovich unearthed these nuggets. Perhaps this information actually came from one of Mike Allen’s siblings, but Leibovich didn’t want his subject to know that:
“Gary Allen was an icon of the far right in the 1960s and 1970s. He was affiliated with the John Birch Society and railed against the 'big lies' that led to the United States’ involvement in World Wars I and II. He denounced the evils of the Trilateral Commission and 'Red Teachers.' Rock’n’roll was a 'Pavlovian Communist mind-control plot.' He wrote speeches for George Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama and presidential candidate.”
In Leibovich's defense, if you manage to get six thousand words into this unfortunate specimen of hagiography, you will learn the real contribution of Politico and its star reporter to political discourse in America, in this rare paragraph of "balance." According to Mark Salter, a former chief of staff and top campaign aide to John McCain, it is this:
“They have taken every worst trend in reporting, every single one of them, and put them on rocket fuel,” Salter says. “It’s the shortening of the news cycle. It’s the trivialization of news. It’s the gossipy nature of news. It’s the self-promotion.”
No wonder The New York Times has now anointed Mike Allen one of the most influential journalists in America. For twenty-four hours.
Update: The New Yorker's George Packer compares Allen's contributions with those of Nay Phone Latt, a young Burmese blogger honroed by PEN, now in the second year of a 12-year prison sentence. The effect is stunning.
POLITICS & POLICY
Steve Benen / Washington Monthly
Marcy Wheeler at Firedoglake
Scott Horton / Harper's
Jonathan Cohn at TNR
Crooks & Liars
Dahlia Lithwick at Slate
John Koblin and Felix Gilette at The New York Observer
Megan McArdle at Atlantic
Simon Johnson et al
ACLU Gay Rights Project
Sydney Schanberg won the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Cambodia "at great risk" during the Indochina War. He is a former op-ed columnist for The New York Times and Newsday and a former metropolitan editor of The Times.