Clear It with Sidney | Hillman Foundation

Clear It With Sidney

The best of the week’s news by Lindsay Beyerstein

Clear It with Sidney

Finally, A Chance for Equality

 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, “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.


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The Times and Its Sources

Above the Fold

         The New York Times reported yesterday that Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal had lied about serving in Vietnam, although he was a member of the Marine Corps reserves during the Vietnam War.

     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 RyanJames 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.

Second Update: It’s interesting that Carolyn Ryan was willing to go on MSNBC’s  Morning Joe to promote the Hernandez story yesterday, but refused to answer any questions from FCP about it today.

Winners & Sinners : 60 Minutes Scoops the World


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
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck’s Nazi Tourette’s
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Kagan, Obama, and the Uses of Distortion

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
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

    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.   



For everything else you need to know about Kagan’s record, go here on the New York Times website, or here at

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.



A Magazine That Mattered




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.)



The Most Important Reporter in America (but only for one news cycle)

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.

Winners & Sinners: From Jacobs to Kroft


Sinners: Pulitzer jurors in the investigative reporting and commentary categories.  Sheri Fink’s Pulitzer-winning piece about “urgent life-and-death decisions” made by a New Orleans doctor after Memorial Medical Center was cut off by the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina was miserably edited, and replete with implications of guilt that were wholly unsupported by Fink’s sprawling reporting.  This collaboration between ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine did not deserve this prize, despite its fancy provenance.

Kathleen Parker, who won for commentary, is another third-rate neo-con who has charmed Fred Hiatt and the rest of the journalistic establishment; her selection is just slightly less embarrassing than the prize given long ago to Charles Krauthammer.  In any case, the persistent failure to award a Pulitzer to Frank Rich, who writes a prize-worthy column almost every week of the year, actually rendered this category quite meaningless a long time ago.

Pulitzer Board members Jim VandeHei of Politico, whose lobbyist wife is an alumna of Tom Delay’s Congressional office, and Paul Gigot of The Wall Street Journal, must have been especially pleased by Parker’s selection.

Winner: Supreme Court expert and budding Obama-biographer Dave Garrow, who has the best dark-horse pick for Justice John Paul Stevens’s seat on the Supreme Court: Attorney General Eric Holder.  This would be a graceful exit indeed for Rahm Emanuel’s nemesis at Justice.

Sunday’s New York Times had its usual mixture of hits and misses…

Winner: The always thorough, sophisticated and nuanced Andrew Jacobs, who used the hacking of his own e-mail account as the jump-off point for a splendid history of harassment of foreign correspondents in China, in the lead position of the front page of the Times’s Week in Review.   Once, correspondents were tailed in the street; now they are trailed on the net.

Winner: Nobel-Prize-winner Paul Krugman performed the nearly impossible feat of making cap-and-trade genuinely understandable to the layman, in “Building a Green Economy,” his cover story in the Sunday Times magazine. Krugman’s bottom lines:

* There is widespread agreement among environmental economists that a market-based program to deal with the threat of climate change — one that limits carbon emissions by putting a price on them — can achieve large results at modest, though not trivial, cost.

* Despite those heavy snows this winter which convinced Fox News global warming had ended, the upward trend is unmistakable: each successive decade since the 1970s has been warmer than the one before.

* The supposed “climate-gate” scandals, in which scientists were accused of suppressing data that undermine the theory of global warming, actually “evaporate on closer examination”

* The “tremendous uncertainty” in long-term forecasts “makes the case for action stronger, not weaker.”

* While opponents of a climate-change policy assert that any attempt to limit emissions would be economically devastating, the truth is a strong climate-change policy would leave the American economy only something between 1.1 percent and 3.4 percent smaller by 2050 than it would be without any new policy measures.

* “Utter catastrophe” is “a realistic possibility,” even if it is not the most likely outcome, and Krugman agrees with Harvard’s Martin Weitzman “that this risk of catastrophe, rather than the details of cost-benefit calculations, makes the most powerful case for strong climate policy.”

Krugman’s final bottom line:

* “We know how to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. We have a good sense of the costs — and they’re manageable. All we need now is the political will.”

Unfortunately, since the United States Senate is even greedier and more shortsighted than the typical American, FCP believes that finding that political will quickly enough to avert catastrophe is almost inconceivable.

* Sinner: On the front page of the Times Book Review, distinguished author and historian Garry Wills wrote a balanced, interesting and intelligent review of The Bridge, David Remnick’s new biography of Barack Obama–until the final paragraph, where Wills declared that Obama had “wasted the first year of his term.”  

You can abhor the president’s decision to expand the war in Afghanistan (as Wills did at the New York Review of Books Website last fall), and you can be repelled by Obama’s continuation of many of his predecessor’s anti-terrorism policies, including rendition–but no reasonable person can call his first year a “waste.”

Obama prevented a severe recession from becoming a depression by passing an essential stimulus bill, he got a highly qualified woman confirmed as the newest associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, he saved Chrysler and GM from insolvency, and he laid the groundwork for two spectacular achievements: the passage of health care reform and a very significant arms reduction agreement with Russia.

Whatever that record is, it cannot be called a “waste.”

Winner: As usual, in his opening Comment in this week’s New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg provides exactly the right historical context for Popegate by taking us back to Martin Luther’s complaints about the sale of indulgences, just five centuries ago. 

Winner: Steve Croft, who provided the comic relief we needed by the end of the weekend, with his double-segment interview with retired(?) mobster John Gotti Jr. on last night’s 60 Minutes.


Winners & Sinners: From Schanberg to Bingham

Sinners: E. Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, and all of the reporters who have failed to point out that Gee earned nearly $2 million serving as a member of the board of Massey Energy and chairman of its Safety, Environmental and Public Policy Committee.  (See the relevant SEC filing here.) Gee has publicly portrayed himself as a fierce advocate of green energy while feeding at the trough of one of the worst coal companies in America.  FCP sent him this query:

1. How long did you serve as the chairman of the safety and environmental and public policy committee of Massey Energy?
2. What steps did you take to reduce the number of safety citations against Massey during your chairmanship?
3. Was your total compensation during your years on the Massey Board more than $1 million and less than $2 million?

Gee’s assistants, Kate Wolford ( and Viviana Ruiz ( both acknowledged receipt of FCP’s inquiry, but no one in the president’s office responded to its contents.  After a massive campaign by Ohio Citizen Action, which included 6,800 letters and pictures drawn by children, as well as t-shirts sported by OSU students asking, “Why, Dr. Gee?”, the president finally left the board last year.  But he was careful to say that he was “retiring,” not “resigning,” to make it clear that he wasn’t succumbing to pressure from outsiders.

Update: In 2008 alone, Gee was paid $219,261 by Massey, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Second Update:  This is Dr. Gee’s second stint running Ohio State.  He has also been president or chancellor of Brown, Vanderbilt and the University of Colorado.  Four years ago The Wall Street Journal reported that those institutions had spent more than $10 million to build or renovate Dr. Gee’s various residences, including $6 million at Vanderbilt alone.  The annual tab for his personal chef and entertaining at Vanderbilt was $700,000.  Dr. Gee is described as a “Mormon teatotaler,” but his then wife, Constance, stirred controversy by using marijuana in the president’s mansion at Vanderbilt.  Her husband attracted additional headlines in 2002 by declaring his intention to boost the academic caliber of Vanderbilt students by soliciting more Jewish applicants.

Winner: The indispensable Clara Bingham, whose post today at The Daily Beast
makes it abundantly clear why “Hollywood couldn’t have invented a better villain” than Don Blankenship, the CEO of Massey Energy.  Bingham writes:

As the toxic streams and topless mountains multiply, the business community has embraced Don Blankenship and put him on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. You would think that Blankenship’s board, which consists of prominent business figures like the former head of the National Security Council and CIA Deputy Director Council Bobby Inman and former SEC commissioner and chief counsel of News Corp. International Barbara Thomas Judge, would have intervened by now.

Winner: FCP colleague Sydney Schanberg, whose collected war correspondence, Beyond The Killing Fields, has just been published by Potomac Books.  Schanberg was one of the greatest war correspondents in Indochina, and this collection includes FCP’s favorite magazine piece of all time, The Death and Life of Dith Pran, which was the basis of the iconic anti-war film, The Killing Fields.  Schanberg’s book should be required reading for every journalism student in America–and everyone else who is serious about the history of the wars in Cambodia, Vietnam and Bangladesh.  It includes details of John McCain’s shocking role in covering up credible reports that hundreds of his fellow American prisoners were left behind in Vietnam after the war was over.

Winner:  New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger, whose new book, Why Architecture Matters, has become an instant classic, and is now going into its fifth printing from Yale University Press.  The Pulitzer Prize winner’s book was published simultaneously with a collection of Goldberger’s pieces, Building Up and Tearing Down: Reflections on the Age of Architecture, from Monacelli Press.

Sinners: The editors of The New York Times Book Review, who have ignored both of Goldberger’s books, after giving a full page to a collection of pieces by Ada Louise Huxtable, Goldberger’s predecessor as architecture critic at The Times, and the same space to a posthumous collection by Goldberger’s immediate successor, Herbert Muschamp.  Before joining The New Yorker, Goldberger was the Times’ architecture critic from 1973 to 1990, its culture editor from 1990 to 1993 and its chief cultural correspondent from 1994-1997.  The failure of the Times to write about either of his new books is beyond baffling.

Winner: The sublime Jane Mayer, for her devastating review in The New Yorker of Marc Thiessen’s appallingly dishonest book about torture and terrorism, Courting Disaster (published, of course, by Regnery, where all prosperous neocons go to publish their paranoid fantacies).  One significant example of Thiessen’s serial lying: according to Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism branch in 2006, Thiessen’s account of the thwarted plot to hijack seven airplanes at Heathrow airport and blow them up over the Atlantic is  “completely and utterly wrong.”  Thiessen, who has never met a torture technique he isn’t in love with, pretends that some of the information that prevented the plot came from the torture  of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.  However, according to Clarke of Scotland Yard, “The deduction that what was being planned was an attack against airliners was entirely based upon intelligence gathered in the U.K.”

Very fortunately for Thiessen, massive intellectual dishonesty is no longer any barrier to working for…

Sinner Fred Hiatt, who baffled everyone with a still-functioning brain at The Washington Post and elsewhere when he made Thiessen the Post’s newest op-ed columnist.  How could Fred miss what is so obvious to Frank Rich and to so many others: that Thiessen’s “giggly, repressed hysteria” (as seen on The Daily Show) is “uncannily reminiscent of the snide Joe McCarthy henchman Roy Cohn.”

Winner: Jon Stewart, for once again performing his function as television’s leading press critic, by pointing out that Fox News is the only American television network where you can count on the guest and the host being equally dishonest, on virtually every program.  This time it was Newt Gingrich trading outright lies with the inimitable Sean Hannity about Barack Obama’s new nuclear policy.  Very fortunately for Gingrich, being completely dishonest has never been a barrier to being one of the most frequent guests of all of the network Sunday chat shows–where, naturally, Gingrich encounters just as much fact checking as he does on Fox.

Update: Jon Chait and the indispensable Steve Benen add this addtional important perspective on the former House Speaker:

With disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich having spent quite a bit of time this week in the national media – an oddly frequent occurrence – Jon Chait raises an objection that often goes overlooked.

On the subject of Gingrich, here’s one thing I don’t understand. John Edwards’ philandering has made him a public pariah, understandably so. But Gingrich’s marital behavior was probably even more disgusting. He cheated on his first wife and told her he wanted a divorce while she was recovering from surgery for cancer. He subsequently cheated on his second wife with a much younger aide. It’s fairly amazing how Gingrich has managed to avoid any stigma from this. He’s just a conservative “ideas guy.”

I’d go just a little further, still. Gingrich’s scandalous personal life and admitted adultery was concurrent with Gingrich launching an impeachment crusade against Bill Clinton for … his scandalous personal life and admitted adultery.

Gingrich then proceeded to characterize himself as an ally of the religious right, and started giving tours of Washington’s “Godly heritage.”

In other words, Gingrich’s political work was discredited, his moral standing was discredited, and his scholarship has been discredited. And yet, he remains a go-to guest for major media outlets, and has positioned himself as one of the right’s “big thinkers.”

When we talk about the bankruptcy of conservatism, Gingrich offers a helpful example.

Winners: The women writers of Newsweek, who convinced their editors to publish 2,500 words on how far the women’s liberation movement still has to go, forty years after 46 Newsweek women filed an anti-discrimination suit against their bosses.  The current Newsweek journalists acknowledged that until gender-discrimination scandals hit ESPN, David Letterman and The New York Post, the three of them knew virtually nothing about the struggle of their predecessors.  They needed to read Susan Brownmiller’s splendid memoir, In Our Time, to begin their education.  “We passed it around, mesmerized by descriptions that showed just how much has changed, and how much hasn’t.”  And don’t miss the accompanying feature displaying more than fifty years of women-themed Newsweek covers.



Sex and Violence à la GOP

  Above the Fold

   So here is how the leaders of the Republican Party work: after spending a year telling vicious lies about the health care bill, predicting Armageddon if it was passed, and standing  on the balcony of the Capitol to egg on demonstrators–who then spit on one congressman, called another one “nigger” and shouted “faggot” at a third–after this model of restraint, these same Republican leaders reacted in horror when the Democrats accused them of inciting the violence which included death threats or physical attacks against at least ten Democratic officials, or their offices. Finally, just for good measure, they invented an anti-Republican attack, just to try to change the subject.

    The invented attack came out of the mouth of Congressman Eric Cantor, the Republican Whip from Virginia, who called an angry press conference to announce that he had been “directly threatened” by “a bullet…shot through the window of my campaign office in Richmond.”  Cantor added his “deep concerns that some [senior Democrats] are dangerously fanning the flames by suggesting that these incidents be used as a political weapon.”

    After that story had ricocheted around the waccosphere for a few hours, the Richmond Police reported the truth about the alleged “attack” on Cantor’s office: the police said they were investigating an “act of vandalism,” after a bullet had been fired randomly into the air–and on its way back to earth, hit a window in the building where Cantor’s office is located.  So much for the “direct threat” to a Republican leader.

    Sticking closely to the Republican talking point of the week, at her moving appearance for Senator John McCain’s campaign in Arizona, Sarah Palin derided “this ginned up controversy about us, common-sense conservatives, inciting violence, because we happen to oppose some of the things in the Obama administration…We know violence isn’t the answer.  When we take up arms, we’re talking about votes and getting involved in a contested primary like this.”

    All of which was deeply moving, coming from the woman who exhorted her “common-sense” followers: “Don’t Retreat, Instead–RELOAD!”–and whose Facebook page  still features a map with crosshairs over the districts of the 20 Democratic congressmen she has targeted for defeat.

    As usual, Stephen Colbert had the pithiest summary of all of this behavior:

   We’re not responsible for these nut jobs–it’s not like we shouted ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre.  We shouted, ‘Everyone in that theatre is a Nazi Commie death worker.’  And then simply pointed out that they were also flammable.

    Just as predictably, the loathsome Mark Halperin was one of the very few journalists who really was moved by Palin’s latest campaign appearances.  Halperin wrote these repellent sentences for Time:

   With a trio of short, spunky speeches, she leaped back to the top of the broadcast networks’ evening newscasts and a dominant position on cable TV, simply by stating her unvarnished opposition to Obamacare and deriding Democrats, Washington élites and the press… Quippy and tart, she mocked the “lamestream media,” and offered her usual punch of charm and charisma, something the public and the press have hungered for since she mostly limited her exposure to Facebook updates, Twitter tweets and calculated appearances on Fox News.

    (Note to Mark: not every one of us has been “hungering” quite the way you have.)  


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Lady and the Gramps
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor

Health Care Reform

   For her appearance with her former running mate in Arizona, Palin chose what Tina Brown called a “fetching black leather dominatrix jacket,” a wardrobe choice which at least provided a useful bridge to the next big Republican story of the week: the expenditure of  $1,946.25 in Republican National Committee funds for a really fun night out for young Republicans at Voyeur, a Hollywood club featuring lesbian dominatrixes whirling around in exotic positions on the club’s floor.

     This event was an afterparty right after an official Young Eagles dinner at the Beverly Hills Hotel, attended by about 50 hip young Republican donors.  The trip to Voyeur was apparently the idea of Allison Meyers, the director of the Young Eagles program, who promptly lost her job after the expenditure was revealed.  This Republican effort in damage control provoked real outrage from senior Daily Show political correspondent John Oliver:

    I’m here to say that this is outrageous!  Have we become so politically correct that a party operative can no longer use political donations to slate his or her thirst for hot simulated sapphic bondage?  The money they used was given to them.  As a donation or a gift.  In my America, Jon, you’re allowed to use a gift however you want–even if it violates the core values of the donor and the organization you represent.

    For those of you wondering exactly what you missed by not joining the Young Eagles night out, the club’s website  promises “provocative revelry that combines eroticism and nightlife exclusivity. An alluring ambience designed with elegance and comfort while maintaining underground vitality.”

    And–since this is California, after all–“Voyeur’s signature cocktail menu includes sugar–free, all organic creations including watermelon jalapeno, blueberry mint and cucumber olive shots.”

    Thank god those young Republicans were at least able to watch their waistlines.



Winners & Sinners: Health Care Reform Edition

Winners & Sinners / Health Care Reform Edition


Overnight is a long time in politics; a week is forever.
FCP’s favorite American Political Proverb

    The Obama administration was spiritually and substantively reborn yesterday when Barack Obama use twenty-two pens to sign the most important piece of legislation into law in four decades.  (why did Stolberg and Pear say “20” in the Times??)

As always, the media did a wildly un-even job of understanding and explaining the significance of this extraordinary moment.

The Biggest Winner: David Leonhardt got right to the heart of matter, with a point I didn’t see made anywhere else: “The bill that President Obama signed on Tuesday is the federal government’s biggest attack on economic inequality since inequality began rising more than three decades ago… Beyond the health reform’s effect on the medical system, it is the centerpiece of his deliberate effort to end what historians have called the age of Reagan…The bill is the most sweeping piece of federal legislation since Medicare was passed in 1965. It aims to smooth out one of the roughest edges in American society — the inability of many people to afford medical care after they lose a job or get sick. And it would do so in large measure by taxing the rich.”  Of course, FCP believes it doesn’t do nearly enough to tax the rich–but at least it is a beginning.

The Biggest Sinner: Brian’s Williams’ NBC Nightly News last night devoted 53 seconds to a favorable account of the president’s bill signing–followed by 3 minutes and 7 seconds of Republican soundbites attacking the bill, 1 minute and 50 seconds about the Republican Attorneys General who have filed an almost-certainly doomed suit to overturn the law in Federal Court–and 1 minute and 55 seconds to an utterly clueless small business owner and his wife, who admitted they had no idea whatsoever how the bill would affect them–but still managed to repeat several of the most well-worn Republican sound bites.   And if you actually wanted to know anything about what was in the bill?  “Go to our website”–that was the anchor’s sole contribution to his viewers’ knowledge about that.  One of the shoddiest reports about an historic event FCP has ever seen on a network newscast.

Winner: ABC’s World News with Diane Sawyer, which not only managed a much more balanced report, but also was the only network evening newscast to report the most relevant poll result of the day: Gallup found that 49 percent of Americans believed the bill was a good thing, and only 40 percent  did not.   On the other hand, the ABC broadcast reported just one Democratic congressional or party  office had been vandalized; on MSNBC,  the always much-more-thorough Rachel Maddow found five sites of vandalism across the country, as well as the ex-militia man in Alabama who claimed credit for inciting all of the violence.

Winner:  The CBS Evening News (Harry Smith was sitting in for Katie), which actually managed to describe some of the specifics in the bill–including tax savings of up to 4 percent for small businesses.

Sinner: The always-awful Kathleen Parker for repeating the bold-faced lie that the health care bill “expands public funding for abortion” and then attacking Bart Stupak for finally doing the right thing by voting for the bill.  Parker wrote that the Congressman “will forever be remembered as the guy who Stupaked health-care reform and the pro-life movement.”

Winner:  FCP’s  colleague, fellow Hillman Prize Judge Harold Meyerson, for writing the clearest column in The Washington Post about the president’s action:  With the enactment of health-care reform, the often hapless, sometimes hopeless Democrats have transformed themselves into something America has not seen in decades: a governing party. By passing the most significant social legislation since the ’60s, they have ended the policy gridlock dating to the middle of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. They have revalidated the almost quaint notion that – despite the ever greater role of money in politics – elections have consequences, too…Obama and Pelosi became a legislative force that Democrats have not seen since Lyndon Johnson. Pelosi’s contribution, no less than Obama’s, is one for the history books.” 

Then Meyerson laid out the rest of the necessary road to victory in the fall:

“To continue as a governing party beyond November, Democrats must apply the lessons of their health-reform victory to more popular causes. They need to establish a powerful consumer protection agency and rein in bank speculation – causes that some congressional Democrats decline to embrace. They must pressure those Democrats relentlessly, as they did those who wavered over health reform. They need more job legislation, beginning with California Rep. George Miller’s bill to save the teaching and public safety jobs on numerous states’ chopping blocks, and with Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s bill to establish an infrastructure bank to revive our construction sector.

Sinner: Ruth Marcus, also in The Washington Post, for boldly stating the obvious–we don’t know exactly how the one of the most complicated pieces of legislation ever enacted is going to work–and then casting doubt on its effectiveness with this factoid: “A study… by Richard Kronick, a former health-care adviser to President Bill Clinton, found ‘little evidence to suggest that extending insurance coverage to all adults would have a large effect on the number of deaths in the United States.’

Note to Marcus and Kronick:  Nothing will ever have any effect on the “total number of deaths in the United States”–except for the total number of births, and immigrants.