Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

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.




Winners & Sinners: From (bloggers) Quinn and Meacham to (Congressman) Grayson




Winners Joseph Huff-Hannon, Oakleigh Marshall, Jean Friedman-Rudovsky

 Sinners:  Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham, for posting one of the most repellent pieces ever to appear on the blog of a mainstream newspaper–their On Faith blog at

Quinn and Meacham displayed their usual excellent judgment by posting this classic piece of anti-gay propaganda (homosexuality is “a behavior that is harmful to the people who engage in it and to society at large”) on the anniversary of the death of  Matthew Shepard.   It was written by Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, who makes a fine living by spewing precisely the kind of hatred which creates the climate which encourages gay teenagers to kill themselves.

Perkins wrote, “Within the homosexual population, such mental health problems are higher among those who “come out of the closet” at an earlier age.”

The truth, from Andrew Lane, executive director of the Johnson Family Foundation, who actually knows what he’s talking about:

While queer folk of all ages experience mental health issues (particularly depression, anxiety and substance abuse) at hugely disproportional rates, there is no evidence to suggest that coming out younger makes matters worse. In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that young people out of the closet are LESS likely to be depressed or anxious.  And while as yet unproven, I am convinced that the less time a human being spends in the closet, the fewer bad things (health issues, behaviors, choices) will happen downstream.

Among Tony Perkins’ many splendid achievements is the address he gave before the Council of Conservative Citizens,   a lovely organization which, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, has routinely denigrated blacks as “genetically inferior,” complained about “Jewish power brokers,” called homosexuals “perverted sodomites,” accused immigrants of turning America into a “slimy brown mass of glop,” and named Lester Maddox, the baseball bat-wielding, arch-segregationist former governor of Georgia, “Patriot of the Century.”

FCP pointed out to Quinn that her blog was no longer “an embarrassment; it’s a humiliation–for you, for Jon and for The Washington Post.”  Quinn responded by offering to print FCP’s view on her blog: “We are always happy to present diverse views. That’s what we do on “On Faith.”

FCP responded, “I’m all for diversity, but what you did was the equivalent of offering [Public Safety Commissioner] Bull Connor a bullhorn–after he used dogs against the demonstrators in Birmingham in 1963.  Is that something you would have done too?”  

Quinn did not reply.

For Quinn’s second greatest embarrassment of 2010, don’t miss her column  about how not to schedule a family wedding.   That one ended her career as a regular columnist for the Style section.  Unfortunately, her blog lives on.

Winner: Rachel Maddow, for two in-shadow interviews with two active-duty, in-the-closet Air Force Majors about how America’s idiotic Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy detracts from unit cohesion and harms our national security.    Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips ordered an immediate end to the policy because it is clearly unconstitutional.  Bowing once again to bad advice from the Department of Defense, the Obama administration is appealing the judge’s ruling, partly because DOD says straight troops need time to learn how to live in the same barracks as gay troops. 
Note to Secretary Gates: that’s actually been going on in America since 1776.

Winner:  J. Kane Latta for a fine piece   at Truthout about the importance of passing the Equal Employment for All Act, which would make it illegal for employers to use the private credit reports of American job applicants when making hiring decisions for most positions. Latta writes:

Bad credit means no job and no job means bad credit. Second chances in Hollywood and professional sports occur every day, but the rest of America is locked down in a modern-day debtors’ prison run by credit bureaus and ruled by corporate greed. A two-class America of the elite and the poor is becoming more and more a reality, thanks in part to the continuing practice of pre-employment credit checks.

Winner: Joseph Huff-Hannon for an excellent feature    for the Indypendent about the quest of Evie Lou Hunt to find out exactly what happened to her brother Billy Lee, one of 30,000 activists, artists, and musicians who were “disappeared” in Argentina after a  fascist dictatorship that seized power there in the spring of 1976.

Sinner: NBC News correspondent Kelly O’Donnell for one of her typically content-free pieces, this one two minutes and 31 seconds about the race between Christine O’Donnell and Chris Coons for the Senate seat from Delaware.  The closest the NBCer got to talking about an actual issue: quoting Tea Partyer O’Donnell as saying “my opponent has a history of promising not to raise taxes on the campaign trial and then breaking those promises as soon as he takes office.” 

The piece should be used in journalism schools everywhere–to highlight everything that is wrong about the network news broadcasts.

No on-air  word from Kelly  about whether she might be related to her namesake.

Winners:  The Los Angeles Times, and its reporters, Tiffany Hsu, Alana Semuels Don Lee for a comprehensive (and heartbreaking) series   about the causes and effects of the unemployment crisis in California

Winner: Ira Schor, for a useful corrective   to Waiting for Superman, the documentary which extols the virtues of charter schools.  Schor writes:

[The film maker] conveniently ignores the policies which enforce decline on public education. Instead, he glamorizes charter schools but wisely does so through irresistible stories of adorable, deserving kids and their desperate parents who pin their hopes on lotteries for admission to charter schools. 

Winner:  Wellesley College professor Susan M. Reverby, who uncovered one of the most ghastly government-sponsored experiments ever: American public health doctors who deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans with venereal diseases in an effort to test the effectiveness of penicillin.  As Donald McNeil wrote in his comprehensive report in The New York Times:

American tax dollars, through the National Institutes of Health, even paid for syphilis-infected prostitutes to sleep with prisoners, since Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When the prostitutes did not succeed in infecting the men, some prisoners had the bacteria poured onto scrapes made on their penises, faces or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture. If the subjects contracted the disease, they were given antibiotics.

However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear,” said Professor Reverby.

Winner:   Jean Friedman-Rudovsky for a harrowing account  of the effects of the drug war in Juarez,  Mexico, the “murder capital of the world.”  Rudovsky reports:

Over the past two and a half years, more than 5,000 people (an average of more than five a day) have been killed in an intensifying drug war that has reached deep into children’s lives — kids gather at crime scenes, stumble onto recently slain bodies, are forced to witness relatives’ assassinations, or are killed themselves…Ten thousand of Juárez’s 500,000 children under the age of 14 have been orphaned, according to El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Juárez-based university and research institution. Of those murdered, 43 were between the ages of 12 and 15. More than 200 were between 16 and 18.

Winner:  Ken Kolker of WOOD8, the NBC-tv affiliate in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for his portrait of Oakleigh Reed, a transgender high school senior whose campaign for homecoming king was blocked by school administrators.  After Kolker’s piece was picked up by CNN and NBC, it sparked a movement among teens from around the world, who came out in support of Reed, whose “Oak is My King” Facebook page grew from 100 members to more than 10,000 in less than a week (now up to 12,535.)

Winner:  Congressman Alan Grayson of  Florida, for the a concise and brilliant explanation of the latest chapter in the mortgage foreclosures scandal, which ought to lead the imprisonment of scores of bank executives–but almost certainly will not.

Winner:  Scott Pelley for a calm, thorough and sensible assessment on 60 Minutes  of the proposed Islamic Cultural Center (and mosque) in downtown Manhattan.


Scott Pelley speaks to Sharif El-Gamal, Congressman Alan Grayson



Winners & Sinners: From Leibovich to Moylan


Jessica Bennett, Mark Leibovich, Glenn Beck


Sinner: Mark Leibovich, who managed to write 8,000 words about Glenn Beck  for the cover of next Sunday’s New York Times Magazine–without telling us anything new, original or important about the Fox “news” man. 

 Leibovich does, however, offer the following penetrating insights:

*  “I stand with the Tea Party as long as they stand for certain principles and values,” Beck told me.  He is a principles-and-values guy.

*  Beck and his friends emphasize that he is driven by principles, not politics. He has been critical of Republicans as well as of Democrats, of George W. Bush as well as of Obama. He says that American citizens who are terrorist suspects should be read their Miranda rights, and he opposes a Constitutional amendment that would ban flag-burning.  His friends object to any hint that Beck has merely fashioned his worldview according to a marketplace that rewards shock, chutzpah and discord.

* He is more agonized than mad.   He is post-angry.

* Fans approach Beck and give him hugs.  Do people feel they can hug Limbaugh?

* His characteristic chalkboard lends his show an air of retro-professorial authority…

It’s not that Leibovich doesn’t include any criticism of Beck.  It’s just that when he does, he feels compelled to show that he’s way too post-modern and hip to take any of it very seriously.

Thus, when Leibovich writes:

Or if you prefer: ‘Even the leather-winged shouting heads at Fox News look like intellectual giants next to this bleating, benighted Cassandra,’ wrote The Buffalo Beast, in naming Beck one of the 50 most loathsome people in America in 2006. (No. 24 then, but in January he made it to No. 1.) ‘It’s like someone found a manic, doom-prophesying hobo in a sandwich board, shaved him, shot him full of Zoloft and gave him a show.’

 That is inevitably followed by this :

O.K.,  the dude’s polarizing.  Got it.”

Or  then there’s  this:

President Obama is not a Muslim, Beck has said, correctly. But Beck can’t help wondering aloud on his show: ‘He needlessly throws his hat into the ring to defend the ground-zero mosque. He hosts Ramadan dinners, which a president can do. But then you just add all of this stuff up — his wife goes against the advice of the advisers, jets to Spain for vacation. What does she do there? She hits up the Alhambra palace mosque. Fine, it’s a tourist attraction. But is there anything more to this? Are they sending messages? I don’t know. I don’t know.’”

This of course is  nothing more or less than the cheapest, oldest, and vilest form of McCarthyism–but it would be oh-so-unhip for Leibovich to make that judgment.

Finally, there is this remarkable sentence:

[Roger] Ailes, a former Republican media guru, runs his top-rated cable-news network like a sharp-edged campaign, speaking with a single voice and — ideally — for the benefit solely of Fox News’s bottom line.”

All of which prompted FCP to send the following query to Leibovich:

I have a couple of questions about your Beck profile.

You report: “And as of Sept. 21, 296 advertisers have asked that their commercials not be shown on Beck’s show (up from 26 in August 2009).”
Why didn’t you mention this was the product of an organized boycott sparked by Beck’s remarks saying that Obama was a racist?

Did you ask Beck if it’s true that he he’s going blind, as he has recently implied?

You write: “Ailes, a former Republican media guru, runs his top-rated cable-news network like a sharp-edged campaign, speaking with a single voice and — ideally — for the benefit solely of Fox News’s bottom line.”

How can you write sentence like that about a network whose parent company gave $1 million to elect Republican governors this year, and another $1 million to the US Chamber of Commerce?
Isn’t it obvious that Ailes is running the network to promote a political agenda, as well as the bottom line?

So far, no response from Mr. Leibovich.

Yesterday, Times executive editor Bill Keller announced that Hugo Lindgren would succeed Gerry Mazaroti.  Keller wrote,

This Sunday’s issue, with the cover on Glenn Beck, is a reminder that Gerry will be a hard act to follow.

Actually, it proves just the opposite.

Saturday Morning Update (it gets worse.)  You won’t know how just how hard-hitting Leibovich’s magaziner is (for Leibovich)–unless you begin by reading his gauzy interview with Christine O’Donnell in the national pages of this morning’s Times.   Presumably, as soon as her handlers read Leibovich’s piece about Beck online, they realized, “he’s our boy”–and granted him a “rare interview” on Thursday with the Republican nominee for the Senate from Delaware.

Score one for O’Donnell’s handlers.

Suddenly, the woman who has said that distributing condoms to teenagers reduces “them to the level of a dog,” calls gay bashing “kids being kids” and believes a woman must “submit” to her husband is magically transformed by Leibovich into a candidate merely trying to avoid “the media carnival that has arisen over her success as well as her apparent résumé exaggerations, past legal woes and old video clips showing her holding forth on issues such as chastity (good), masturbation (bad) and witchcraft (a teenage dalliance).” 

After her very unfair trashing at the hands of Karl Rove, thank God O’Donnell found the gentle touch of Leibovich to rehabilitate her.

Sunday Update: As usual, Frank Rich is the only person at the Times to get to the heart of the matter, which the Times “news” reporter avoided so assiduously.

Rich explains:

Christine O’Donnell, Tea Party everywoman… just may be the final ingredient needed to camouflage a billionaires’ coup as a populist surge. By the time her fans discover that any post-election cuts in government spending will be billed to them, and not the Tea Party’s shadowy backers, she’ll surely be settling her own debts with fat paychecks from “Fox & Friends.”

Winner: Brian Moylan, for a moving and important piece in Gawker (of all places)  about the most horrifying story of the week, the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the college student who took his own life after his roomate used the internet to broadcast Clementi’s sexual encounter with another man.  Moylan writes:

 What seems most befuddling about the suicide of Tyler Clementi, the gay teen whose roommate broadcast him having sex, is how this one incident lead to his death. It’s because being a gay teen can be akin to prolonged torture… [Teenagers are] just like normal people, but amped up on a combination of hormones and self-doubt that makes them particularly awful. And mean! Teens are cruel, especially to other teens and especially to other teens who are perceived as different.

Imagine your worst high school memory and multiply it by ten and that is how bad it is for many gay teenagers every day. The ones that have it the worst are those that are bullied repeatedly by their peers until they become suicidal, drop out of school, or are robbed of their education because they can’t focus on learning the Pythagorean theorem or the amendments to the Constitution because they’re thinking about how they’re going to physically survive the day. In many cases, parents, teachers, principals and other grown-ups don’t care about about the gay student’s problems and condone the bullying behavior, either explicitly or with their own inaction.

Sinner: Newsweek’s Jessica Bennett, for a perfectly repellent piece  at on the same subject, which reported that bullying really isn’t anything new, so why is the media making so much out of four gay teenagers killing themselves right in a row? 

Bennett writes that “The hype around bullying has lead to demands for ever-more drastic punishments for those labeled bully”–including a possible five year sentence for Clementi’s roomate, Dharun Ravi, and his alleged accomplice, Molly Wei, for this despicable prank.

FCP believes five years in jail  for each of them would actually send exactly the right message to their peers about this kind of disgusting behavior.

Winner: Lisa Miller, for a splendid cover story in this week’s Newsweek about the “mama girrlies”  emulating Sarah Palin and running for office acorss America, pretending that they are determined to save America’s children–by repealing health care rform, opposing CHIP, which helps low-income kids get health insurance, opposing kindergarten programs at risk–and of course, prohibiting abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. 

Nevada Republican Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s moving position on that subject: “asked by a radio interviewer in June what she’d tell a young girl who’d been raped by her father, Angle responded, ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right,’  and that the girl should turn ‘a lemon situation into lemonade.’”

Winner: Human Rights First, for reminding us that a terrorist is on trial right now in Federal Court in Manhattan–and hardly anyone has even noticed 
The indispensable human rights organization reported:

Ahmed Ghailani, a former Guantánamo detainee, is charged with plotting with Al Qaeda in the 1998 bombings of two American embassies in East Africa that killed 224 people. Not a nice guy.

Former Mayor Giuliani says these trials will make New York unsafe, even though as Mayor he supported the federal court trial of the blind sheik who bombed the World Trade Center. Karl Rove said, “we will see that this was an utter unmitigated disaster for the security of the United States.”

Yet, our federal courts have convicted 400 terrorists since 9/11, while Guantánamo has convicted only 4. Politics based on fear rather then national security do not serve the public.
Here was the scene around the federal court house for the Ghailani trial: The streets were not blocked off. There were no legions of helicopters. Those who live and work near the court did not stay away. The police didn’t need an extra dime for added security.”

And yet, Charles Schumer and Michael Bloomberg both joined the idiotic chorus opposing the trial of  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Manhattan.





Winners & Sinners


Left to right: Derek Leebaert, Jonathan Karl, Lisa Meyers




Winner, Derek Leebaert, author of Magic And Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan.

        Forget about Bob Woodward’s new book, Obama’s Wars, full of pettiness (and petty scooplets) and devoid, as always, of any meaningful analysis whatsoever.  By far the most interesting book this month from Alice Mayhew (and Simon and Schuster) is Magic and Mayhem, a superb account of the “magical thinking” responsible for America’s capacity to repeat the same foreign policy disaster over and over again since the end of World War II.

        Written by Derek Leebaert, a management consultant who has taught foreign policy at Georgetown since 1996, the book describes America’s interventions in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq as “surrounded by a host of dangerous self-deceptions” that he sums up as “magical thinking.”

        I call it ‘magical’ because shrewd, levelheaded people are so frequently bewitched into substituting passion, sloganeering and haste for reflect on, homework, and reasonable objectives…When we think magically, we expect to  astounding outcomes of our own design…Magical thinking entails seductive, familiarizing rituals.  In the excitements of global policy, we court some truly grim entities as imginary friends, such as venal client states that eventually implode and splatter us in their collapse…We resort to bad analogies and inferior quanitative techniques while stilling our doubts with mantras of ‘stabiility’ and ‘democratcy’ accompanied by the usual creepy euphemisms like ‘collateral damage,” “enhanced interrorogation,’ or percentage of ‘DOE,” meaning ‘Death on Earth.  When the outcomes do not match expectations, as has been to often the case, it is magically assumed that it was the particulars that were gotten wrong, not that the overall objective was misconceived.”

        Barack Obama should make this book required reading for everyone participating in the Afghanistan review due to be completed this December.

Sinner: ABC’s Jonathan Karl, for a World News piece about Christine O’Donnell which was devoted exclusively to the irrelevance of attacks on the Delaware Republican Senate nominee for her admitted dalliance with Satanism.    By focusing exclusively on that charge, Karl’s piece made O’Donnell look like a victim of elitists–instead of the dangerous fool who promised  George Stephanpoulos   that when elected, she would fight “to defend the homeland of our security.”  Among O’Donnell’s other greatest hits, none of which is getting the attention it deserves from the MSM:

* O’Donnell excused gay bashing as ‘kids being kids’; asked if she could “understand why gays might be upset?” by someone calling homosexuality a “deviant sexual orientation,” O’Donnell replied, “Absolutely not. I cannot understand.”

* She believes the proper role of a woman is to “submit” to her husband. ”This is not about merely a Baptist doctrine. This is a biblical doctrine.”

* She thinks that spouses who have been cheated on possess compromised ‘purity.’

* She once told Joe Scarborough that she wants to stop “the whole country from having sex.”

 * She thinks that distributing condoms to teenagers ‘reduc[es]them to the level of a dog.’ and that condom distribution is “‘just going to further the spread of AIDS.”
* She warned that allowing women to attend military academies “cripples the readiness of our defense.”

And finally, FCP’s personal favorite (Satanism, anyone?):

*  O’Donnell thinks The Sopranos are a model family. “The thing that attracts people to The Sopranos is the family element. It shows that America still has a longing for that traditional upbringing.”

For the complete list, see this excellent compilation from ThinkProgress.

Sinners:  Ariana Eunjung Cha and Nia-Malika Henderson of The Washington Post  and the always-ordinary Sheryl Gay Stolberg of The New York Times for two woefully inadequate accounts of the president’s interview by John Harwood of CNBC. (The account on NBC’s Nightly News was just as bad.)  All three focused almost exclusively on the unhappiness of some of the president’s questioners, while ignoring the real lead of the story, which was only available from
Michael A. Memoli in The Los Angeles Times: “President Obama sought to challenge critics who say his administration has been hostile to businesses, arguing in a televised forum Monday that measures he has taken to stabilize the economy have boosted the private sector….While some have accused him of being hostile to Wall Street, Obama said a “big chunk” of the nation “feels like I’ve been too soft on Wall Street.”

Another quote from the president you didn’t see in The New York Times or Washington Post stories:

A big source of frustration – this quote that you just said, this was me acting like Hitler going into Poland, had to do with a proposal to change a rule called “carried interest,” which basically allows hedge fund managers to get taxed at 15 percent on their income. Now, everybody else is getting taxed at a lot more. (Laughter.) The secretary of the hedge fund is probably being taxed at 25, 28 – right? And these folks are making – getting taxed at 15….The notion that somehow me saying maybe you should be taxed more like your secretary, when you’re pulling home a billion dollars or a hundred million dollars a year, I don’t think is me being extremist or being anti-business. (Applause.) And that’s the confusion we get into.

Sinners: Anne Thompson and Lisa Myers, both of whom took turns on NBC’s Nightly News this week, attacking Ken Feinberg for making payouts too slowly to victims of the Gulf Spill from the BP relief fund.  Thompson said Feinberg’s record was no better than BP’s, and Myers followed up a couple of days later with multiple complaints against Feinberg’s performance.   What neither of them reported: according to a Reuters story earlier this week, from Aug. 23 to Sept. 3 Feinberg was paying out roughly $3.5 million a day, about the same daily amount as BP had been paying when it operated the fund. But since September 3, Feinberg has been paying out an average of $12.5 million–an increase of much more than 300 percent.

Reached by FCP, Myers said: “I have no doubt that the numbers reflect that more checks are going out,” and she acknowledged that her main sources for the story were lawyers for people seeking payouts.  She added.  “I would be surprised if Mr. Feinberg thought that we were unfair.”

Anne Thompson acknowledged receipt of FCP’s inquiry, but did not respond to it.



Remembering Paul Conrad

An FCP guest post

By Harold Meyerson

    In bestowing our awards on trenchant, progressive journalism here at Hillman, there’s one category of TPJ we have generally overlooked: editorial cartooning. But if ever there was a journalist with a trenchant, progressive body of work, it was Paul Conrad, the great editorial cartoonist at the Los Angeles Times, who died earlier this month at age 86. Conrad was surely the nation’s pre-eminent editorial cartoonist from the mid-Sixties through the early Nineties, as the Washington Post’s Herbert Block (Herblock) was in the decades before.
   Conrad cartoons didn’t speak to the reader; they shrieked. He drew from a well of Swiftian savage indignation, and splashed his ire over racists, militarists, and right-wingers in general, and Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan (both as governor and president), and Sam Yorty (the demagogic mayor of Los Angeles in the Sixties and early Seventies) in particular.
    Like his fellow Angeleno Raymond Chandler, Conrad was at home in noir. There was often a lot of black in Conrad cartoons – in particular, shading or surrounding that most noir-ish of politicos, Nixon. For an Angeleno such as I, steeped in lore and power of the Times, Conrad’s war on Nixon (who, in turn, put Conrad on his enemies list) was the happiest of turn-abouts. The pre-Otis-Chandler Times had virtually created Nixon, with political editor Kyle Palmer making sure that the news pages sung his praises from his first congressional campaign in 1946 through his first presidential campaign in 1960. But that was the year that Otis took over the paper from his father and, to the dismay of the rest of the Chandler family, began remaking the Times into a great paper. Nothing sped that conversion more than his hiring of Conrad (from the Denver Post) in 1964. 

    For the next 22 years, as publisher and then as chairman of the company, Otis protected Conrad from the rage of L.A.’s conservative elites, prominent among whom were other members of the Chandler family, which owned the paper.  But in 1986, the Chandler cousins – a collection of paleo-Birchers and kindred yahoos – ousted Otis. In 1990, Cardinal Roger Mahony and other local conservatives successfully prodded the paper to oust liberal (and pro-choice) editorial page editor Anthony Day.
   Most of Conrad’s obituaries simply noted that he stepped down from the Times in 1993, but that’s not really a true picture of what happened. Times management, inhabiting a conservative cocoon and increasingly isolated from their increasingly liberal city, had clearly come to believe Conrad was more trouble than he was worth to them – a judgment they made known by deed if not by explicit word to Conrad himself. When he left, they hired a conservative non-entity to take his place, pledging, however, to continue running Conrad with some regularity. As the paper’s former longtime city editor Bill Boyarsky has documented, though, that meant they ran him no more than sporadically.

            Conrad kept cartooning, but without a steady platform for his work. His attacks on George W. Bush were brilliant and fierce – when and if you could find them. Nonetheless, they added to a body of work that had already established Conrad as a peer of Thomas Nast and Herblock, as one of America’s great editorial cartoonists.


Harold Meyerson is a longtime judge for The Hillman Prizes, the editor-at-large of The American Prospect, and a weekly columnist for The Washington Post.  Currently he is also a guest columnist for The Los Angeles Times.  Last year The Atlantic named him one of America’s fifty most influential columnists.    He is the author of Who Put The Rainbow in The Wizard of Oz, a biography of Broadway lyricist Yip Harburg.



Winners & Sinners: from Mayer to Peretz


Winners: The incomparable Jane Mayer, for her devastating portrait in The New Yorker of David Koch,   who has bought his way into New York society with tens of millions of dollars of donations to cultural institutions like the American Ballet Theatre, while simultaneously financing climate-change denying and pollution promoting think tanks, and her editor, David Remnick, for publishing the piece after New York magazine had published a mostly-gushing profile  of the same subject.

Koch’s handlers used the hoary technique of trying to kill one piece by promoting another one, in this case by cooperating with New York’s friendly reporter,
Sinner Andrew Goldman, while denying Mayer access to Koch and most of his closest associates.  The strategy succeeded in producing the profile Koch wanted in New York, but failed to kill the devastating piece in The New Yorker authored by Mayer.   A few examples of the reporters’ contrasting approaches:

Mayer: Greenpeace issued a report identifying [Koch’s] company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.”  The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

Goldman: [Koch] also opposes the president’s climate-change proposals.

Mayer: In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States.

Goldman: In his office, Koch showed me a photocopied flyer Greenpeace had produced with sketches of him and Charles below the words “Wanted for Climate Crimes” and shook it in the air. Koch Industries’ emissions, Koch told me, are far less than legally required.

Mayer: Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

Goldman: Richard Fink insists that Koch’s political activity is about principles, not money. “I view David as a courageous American who has a set of beliefs that he’s willing to support consistently over time despite all the flak he gets,” Fink says. “Very few people would do that.”

Sinner: Martin Luther King Jr. biographer Taylor Branch, for a bizarre op-ed piece in The Times, in which he praised Glenn Beck’s recent rally in front of the Lincoln Memorial because Beck “made peace for one day with the liberal half of the American heritage. That is a good thing. Our political health, in the spirit of Dr. King’s march, requires thoughtful and bold initiatives from all quarters.”

Branch noted that his “cringing search” of Beck’s  archives had turned up “diatribes on Dr. King as a dangerous socialist, and on President Obama as an alien Muslim,” but utterly failed to convey the right-wing pundit’s habitual tone (and perpetual tears).  

Among mainstream reporters, only Dana Milbank has managed to do that recently: “Consider these tallies from Glenn Beck’s show on Fox News since Obama’s inauguration: 202 mentions of Nazis or Nazism, according to transcripts, 147 mentions of Hitler, 193 mentions of fascism or fascist, and another 24 bonus mentions of Joseph Goebbels. Most of these were directed in some form at Obama – as were the majority of the 802 mentions of socialist or socialism on Beck’s nightly ‘report.’”

Note to Branch: one day without hatred does not compensate for 24 months of non-stop insanity.

As the great Arthur Gelb has pointed out, the kid-gloves treatment of Beck by so much of the mainstream press is revoltingly reminiscent of the way most of the establishment treated red-baiter Joe McCarthy, before Ed Murrow and others finally turned on him.   The reason then, and now, was fear.

Winner Michael J. Mishak for a brilliant dissection  of how Meg Whitman has already spent $104 million of her own money in her quest for the governorship of California–just $5 million less than Michael Bloomberg spent to be re-elected Mayor for a third term in New York City. 

Mishak reports: “Those donations have allowed her to target her campaign mailings to the smallest subsets of voters and sort out which television shows are popular among independent voters. (It turns out they are big fans of “Bones,” the crime show rife with romantic tension, on which Whitman has aired ads.) Dozens of outside consultants and a paid staff the size of some presidential campaigns run an operation that seems to be the living embodiment of Whitman’s book title: “The Power of Many.”“

Sinner: Martin Peretz for an even more repellent post than usual about the mosque controversy, in which he declared “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood.  So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.”  

Fifty years ago, it was singularly appropriate that the Jewish establishment in America was one of the pillars of the black Civil Rights Movement.   The contrast between that natural sensitivity to prejudice and the disgusting declarations of Peretz and the Anti-Defamation League  could not be more striking–or more distasteful.

Barry Eisler, for his splendid new novel, Inside Out–the first pro-gay, anti-torture C.I.A. thriller of the new millenium–a riveting page turner with a very unusual social-conscience.



Winners & Sinners / Summer Edition

Winner: Todd Purdum, for “Washington, We have a Problem,” in Vanity Fair (September print issue only, so far).  This is the best piece FCP has read about Washington in many years, the obverse of  Mark Leibovich’s 8,100 word love letter to Mike Allen on the cover of The New York Times Magazine last April (which FCP described here).

Purdum is the quintessential Washington insider, a long-time Timesman turned Vanity Fair correspondent, married to ex-Clintonista Dee Dee Myers. But somehow, Purdum manages to avoid all the Washington cliches so prominent in pieces like Leibovich’s.  Here is a small sample of Purdum’s pungent aperçus in that rarest of 10,900 word pieces – the kind you actually want to read all the way to the end:

* over many decades…the neural network of money, politics, bureaucracy, and values becomes so tautly interconnected that no individual part can be touched or fixed without affecting the whole organism, which reacts defensively.

* a new president…found himself for much of his first year in office in stalemate, pronounced an incipient failure, until the narrowest possible passage of a health-care bill made him a sudden success in the fickle view of the commentariat, whose opinion curdled again when Obama was unable, with a snap of the fingers or an outburst of anger, to stanch the BP oil spill overnight. And whose opinion spun around once more when he strong-armed BP into putting $20 billion aside to settle claims, and asserted presidential authority by replacing General Stanley McChrystal with General David Petraeus. The commentariat’s opinion will keep spinning with the wind.
* The evidence that Washington cannot function…is all around. For two years after Wall Street brought the country close to economic collapse, regulatory reform languished in partisan gridlock. A bipartisan commission to take on the federal deficit was scuttled by Republican fears in Congress that it could lead to higher taxes, and by Democratic worries about cuts to social programs. Obama was forced to create a mere advisory panel instead. Four years after Congress nearly passed a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws, the two parties in Washington are farther apart than ever, and hotheaded state legislatures have stepped into the breach. Guantánamo remains an open sore because of fearmongering about the transfer of prisoners to federal prisons on the mainland.

* To Rahm Emanuel…Washington is just “Fucknutsville.”

* The press may claim the vestigial title of Fourth Estate, but it is the lobbying industry that is now effectively the fourth branch of government. Lobbyists had their biggest year ever in 2009, with expenditures of $3.5 billion, or $1.3 million for each hour that Congress was in session, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The total number of officially registered lobbyists in Washington is now about 11,000, down from a peak of nearly 15,000 in 2007, due in part to new restrictions. But that number doesn’t come close to reflecting reality…. If you throw in all the people doing “government outreach” and “congressional liaison” at the countless trade associations and advocacy groups, the total number of people in Washington working to influence the government in one way or another actually runs closer to 90,000. There were 2,500 registered lobbyists working on financial-industry reform—mainly against it—or roughly five for each member of Congress. The biggest single lobbying effort last year was mounted by the United States Chamber of Commerce (an opponent of much, if not most, of Obama’s agenda), which by itself shelled out $144 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. That’s more than the total annual payroll for every elected official in Congress. (On this subject Purdum acknowledges FCP mishpokhe Robert G. Kaiser, and his splendid book, So Damn Much Money. OK, so there is a media conspiracy.)

* In the 1974 congressional elections, total spending on Senate and House races came to only $77 million. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, by 2008 the figure was $1.36 billion

* Thanks to cable, the Internet, Twitter, and Facebook, there is no such thing as a “news cycle” in Washington—only one endless, undifferentiated full-color stream of fact, opinion, and attitudinizing, where lies and misinformation flourish equally with truth.
* Fox News is waging a fiercely partisan war against the administration. When Obama flew to Prague this spring to sign the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, continuing a process put in place by Ronald Reagan, the Fox News midday anchor, Megyn Kelly, took note of the trip as she cut to a commercial break, then added, “Now critics are asking, Will the new deal leave the U.S. defenseless until it’s too late?” Kelly’s face disappeared from the screen and was replaced by grainy black and- white footage of an exploding nuclear bomb.

* Rahm Emanuel—describing how the administration had managed the Afghan surge, which deeply divided Democrats at the very time it was counting solely on Democratic votes to get the health-care bill through the Senate, without either effort derailing the other—works himself into the ultimate insider’s amazement that “not one journalist out of 150” in “this entire fucking town” took note of the White House’s skill. “Nobody put two and
two together.”

And most importantly:

* The pace of the modern presidency—or, rather, the pace of modern life, as amplified by the media and by the impatience of the public for action of any kind—has the perverse effect of making the most measured of politicians seem out of sync, and the most visionary policies seem incremental and thus unsatisfying. By definition, it will take years for the result of changes in the nation’s health-care system, or its energy policies or education policies—or anything else of note—to be fully in place, much less fully understood, much less proven effective.  Anyone who risks taking on the toughest problems automatically risks being seen as not having done enough about them to get any credit by the time the next news cycle, or election cycle, rolls around. It’s a conundrum that vexes any president: there’s no short-term gain for long-term wisdom. Durable achievement demands a long time horizon—something that the country as a whole seems to have lost. We can’t wait for the carrots to grow—we keep pulling them up to see how they’re doing. Thus, deeply complex problems, from illegal immigration to the BP oil spill—problems that by definition have no quick or easy solution, despite their obvious urgency—become easy emblems of presumptive failure, whatever the president may actually be doing to address them.

Purdum’s Bottom Line:

* Obama’s gamble is that, if you look after the doing of the presidency, the selling of the presidency will look after itself. The short-term price may come in stalled poll numbers, electoral setbacks, and endless contradictory advice from the kibitzers. The payoff, if there is one, lies out on some future horizon. Obama may be right about this strategy, or he may be wrong. But it is the strategy he is following nonetheless.

Winner: The Hillman Foundation’s favorite illustrator, Edward Sorel, for his brilliant drawing in Vanity Fair, accompanying Purdum’s Washington piece.

Winners: CNN producers Karrah Kaplan and Ines Ferre.  While practically everyone else in the media (and the White House and the NAACP) was convicting Shirley Sherrod on the basis of a crudely edited videotape, Kaplan and Ferre went after the only two people who could speak authoritatively about the charge being made against her: the farmer Roger Spooner, and his wife Eloise, both of whom ended the attacks on Sherrod by identifying her as their savior.  Kaplan was the producer who located the Spooners; Ferre was the person on the ground who convinced them to go on air after they initially refused to do so.  Proving once more that shoe leather can be much more powerful than base right-wing propaganda.

Winners: New York Times labor reporter Steve Greenhouse, for spotlighting a clothing factory in the Dominican Republic that is pioneering the concept of paying its workers a living wage, and Joseph Bozich, the C.E.O. of Knights Apparel, who is “hoping to prove that doing good can be good business, that they’re not mutually exclusive.” 

Sidney Hillman would definitely approve.

Sinner: Paul Steiger, who, for the second year in a row, contradicted the implied spirit of the name of the organization he helms — ProPublica — by paying himself $571,687 in salary, plus $13,430 in other compensation in 2009, which is almost identical to what he received in 2010. ProPublica general manager Dick Tofel had defended this compensation in the past because, he said, it was 59 percent less than what Steiger made as managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

But as Dan Gillmor has pointed out, according to Charity Navigator’s 2009 survey of CEO compensation at medium to large charities, the average CEO pay (including bonuses and expenses) in New York (the highest regionally), where ProPublica is based, was about $220,000 — which is less than half of what Steiger makes.

Winner: The incomparable Hendrik Hertzberg for another superb comment in The New Yorker, this time about the mosque proposed for downtown Manhattan, the cause du jour
of the wackosphere — which, in this case, includes the Jewish Anti-Defamation League.  As Hertzberg mentions, the venerable Jewish civil-rights organization has “disgracefully” defamed its own name by joining Sarah Palin in fighting against construction of the mosque — and religious freedom — in opposition to saner Jewish organizations such as the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan and the U.J.A.-Federation of New York.

Winner: Khadija Sharife, for a penetrating look at the dark side of the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) — the “non-profit” governing body of international soccer which earned $3.3 billion from this year’s World Cup.

Winner: Frederick Kaufman, for a fine expose of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index in Harper’s Magazine (subscription required) which explains how the Wall Street octopus brought chaos to grain prices, and thereby caused a surge in famine around the world.

Winner: William “Biff” Grimes, for a superb obituary of historian (and Sidney Award winner) Tony Judt.  Beautifully written and perfectly balanced, this is New York Times obituary writing at its very best.

Winner: Gloria Feldt for a splendid piece in The Washington Post about how popular culture has altered the debate about abortion in America.



A Voice of Sanity from the Federal Bench

Above the Fold  

    Chief District Court Judge Vaughn Walker’s opinion declaring that marriage equality is a fundamental right under the constitution is the third most important Federal Court decision for gay people since the modern gay rights movement was born forty-one years ago.

    Whether or not Judge Walker’s decision becomes the law of the land will almost certainly depend on Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy of the United States Supreme Court–the swing voter in virtually every 5 to 4 decision of the Court, who just happens to be the author of the other two most important federal decisions in this area: Romer v. Evans, which threw out a Colorado state constitutional amendment prohibiting laws protecting gay people from discrimination, and Lawrence v. Texas, which invalidated all the remaining state laws which made non-heterosexual sex illegal.  (Interestingly, in his violent dissent to Lawrence, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that Kennedy’s majority opinion would open the way to gay marriage.)

    Much of Judge Walker’s decision echoes echos both Romer and Lawrence, especially this passage from the Lawrence decision: “The fact that the governing majority in a state has traditionally viewed a particular practice as immoral is not a sufficient reason for upholding a law prohibiting the practice; neither history nor tradition could save a law prohibiting miscegenation from constitutional attack.”

    What was most heartening about Judge Walker’s decision was the way it explicitly validated the view of all of the sane people who followed this trial closely: the defenders of Proposition 8, the California initiative which forbade marriage equality, failed to provide a shred of serious evidence that marriage between two members of the same sex would have any deleterious effect on anyone, for any reason.

    The star witness for the Prop 8 supporters was David Blankenhorn, president of the
American Institute for American Values, which paid him and his wife $317,500 in salary in 2008, the latest year for which records are available.   Blankenhorn was also paid for his testimony in the Proposition 8 trial, although he has refused to tell FCP how much he received. 

    Whatever the sum was, Judge Walker made it clear that the Prop 8 supporters did not get their money’s worth.

    Judge Walker’s opinion devoted an extraordinary amount of space to make Blankenhorn sound like a complete charlatan.  Among the judge’s pithier observations about Blankenhorn’s testimony:

* Blankenhorn lacks the qualifications to offer opinion testimony and, in any event, failed to provide cogent testimony in support of proponents’ factual assertions.

* He has no degree in sociology, psychology or anthropology despite the importance of those fields to the subjects of marriage, fatherhood and family structure;

* His study of the effects of same-sex marriage involved “read[ing] articles and
ha[ving] conversations with people, and tr[ying] to be an informed
person about it

* He relied on the quotations of others to define marriage and provided no explanation of the meaning of the passages he cited or their sources.

* Nothing in the record other than the “bald assurance”of Blankenhorn suggests that
Blankenhorn’s investigation into marriage has been conducted to the “same level of intellectual rigor” characterizing the practice of anthropologists, sociologists or psychologists.

* Blankenhorn’s conclusion that married biological parents provide a better family form than married non-biological parents is not supported by the evidence on which he relied because the evidence does not, and does not claim to, compare biological to non-biological parents.

* Blankenhorn gave absolutely no explanation why manifestations of the deinstitutionalization of marriage would be exacerbated (and not, for example, ameliorated) by the presence of marriage for same-sex couples.

* Much of his testimony was contradicted by his opinions.

* Blankenhorn agreed that children raised by same-sex couples would benefit if their parents were permitted to marry. Blankenhorn also testified he wrote and agrees with the statement “I believe that today the principle of equal human dignity must apply to gay and lesbian persons. In that sense, insofar as we are a nation founded on this principle, we would be more American on the day we permitted same-sex marriage than we were the day before.”

* The court now determines that Blankenhorn’s testimony constitutes inadmissible opinion testimony that should be given essentially no weight.

    Judge Walker was equally contemptuous of the testimony of Kenneth P. Miller, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, whose opinions in the trial, the judge said, “were inconsistent with the opinions he expressed before he was retained as an expert.  Specifically, Miller previously wrote that gays and lesbians, like other minorities, are vulnerable and powerless in the initiative process, contradicting his trial testimony that gays and lesbians are not politically vulnerable with respect to the initiative process.”

    Since the judge, as the trier of facts, dismissed all of the testimony of the star witnesses in opposition to marriage quality, it will be  much more difficult for any appeals court to find a basis for over-turning his decision.

    As John Schwartz explained in a fine article in the Times “appeals court judges and the justices at the highest court in the land could find themselves boxed in by the careful logic and structure of Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s opinion.”

    And as Andrew Koppelman, a professor at Northwestern Law School, explained to Schwartz,  “while appeals courts often overturn lower-court judges on their findings of law — like the proper level of scrutiny to apply to Proposition 8 — findings of fact are traditionally given greater deference.  ‘They are supposed to take as true facts found by the district court, unless they are clearly erroneous.  This opinion shows why district courts matter, even though the Supreme Court has the last word.’”

    Furthermore, instead or relying on “strict scrutiny,” Judge Walker said Proposition 8 does not even meet “a rational basis review”–which also makes it harder for a higher court to over-turn him

    Judge Walker happens to be gay himself–the San Francisco Chronicle called his orientation “an open secret”–so naturally the wackos are already calling for his impeachment, in their never-ending quest to use hatred to raise money for their dubious organizations.  Tim Wildmon, President of the American Family Association, was among the very first to use the judge’s opinion to send out a new fund-raising appeal to his members.

    But as Monroe H. Freedman of Hofstra Law School pointed out in the Times   “You could say, ‘If a gay judge is disqualified, how about a straight judge?’ There isn’t anybody about whom somebody might say, ‘You’re not truly impartial in this case.’ ” And another legal expert said that if no one had tried to get the judge to recuse himself before the trial, it’s too late to call him unqualified after he had rendered his decision.

    Judge Walker’s opinion was a huge victory for the odd couple  who argued that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, David Boies and Ted Olson–who have said all along that the law was so clearly in their favor, the measure’s unconstitutionality would be self-evident to anyone who was serious about this subject.

    Judge Walker has written an opinion which has richly confirmed that point of view.  “The Judge obviously intended this to be his monument,” said Matt Coles, the eminence grise of gay litigation at the American Civil Liberties Union, “and it is his monument.”

    Now all we need is for Anthony Kennedy  to emulate Judge Walker, and genuine marriage equality will finally be the law of the land.