November 30, 2007
Let Them Eat Facts
I think it says a lot about my life that, even in Amsterdam, Tim Russert's worth as an interviewer comes up at dinner. The argument was made that he is absolutely as tough as any interviewer working today, and what more can we expect? My rejoinder, which I thought exceptionally on-point, was that it's not the "toughness" of the questions but the content. Just once, rather than see him compare some politician's current position to the one they held when they were eight, I'd like to see him compare some politician's current position to the actual data from a Congressional Budget Office graph. That would still be tough, but it would also be relevant. Sadly, this clever rejoinder appears to be Paul Krugman's argument, rather than mine, but it's still correct.
November 12, 2007
Russert's Gotta Getcha
Matt's takedown of Tim Russert's "tough," which is to say, trivial, questioning, is well worth a read. Russert's obsession with getting people to say things that are embarrassing rather than illuminating is enormously trivializing to politics, and all the more pernicious because his program is what passes for "serious" discussion in Washington. He's not the laggard, he's the model.
And so his attitude spreads. If you watch Hardball, you get the Chris Matthews' selling point, which is that he'll personally rip a politician's throat out if they try and spin you. It's all part and parcel of this contempt for politicians and desire to expose them not for being uninformed, gripped by crazed and wrong ideas, but for being politician-y. For engaging in the sort of spin and doubletalk and evasions that they've adopted in order to, well, survive Chris Matthews and Tim Russert. You can see it in the debate Russert just moderated, where the big story out of it was that Hillary was a bit clumsy in finessing an answer, not that Hillary (or anyone else) offered the wrong answer.
One could imagine a gotcha journalism that was actually very important. Jeff Stein engaged in it when he began asking politicians about the difference between a Sunni and Shiite, and which sect Osama bin Laden identified, and why it all mattered. Those questions probe the familiarity of pols with the dynamics critical for actual policy making. By contrast, Tim Russert's famous gotcha of Howard Dean -- "How many men and women do we now have on active duty?" -- was actually meaningless. If Dean had known the precise answer, it would have told you literally nothing about his plans for the military, his attitude towards national security, his plans for Iraq. It was simply a data point Russert could tag Dean for not knowing, and that could then be replayed on other shows, thus underscoring Russert's reputation for toughness. But that's the point, right?
October 26, 2007
Why Journalism is Like Manufacturing
"The Internet was a pretty standard resource for research and knowledge by the time we were in high school." Writes Brian. "God only knows how people "did" secondary education--let alone journalism--20 years ago."
I'm pretty sure the answer is "slower." When I moved to DC, I was often astonished by how little output was expected from journalists. Three or four features a year was a decent clip -- worthy of a salary. That seemed absurd. But back in the day, you couldn't just Nexis your way through everything written on the subject. Research required days in the microfiche stacks. Every time you got a new lead, you had to go back to the microfiche stacks. Writing serious articles took a really long time.
This is, in part, why you're seeing cutbacks in many newsrooms. I'm not supposed to say this, but journalism has gotten easier, and fewer individuals can do more of it. Now, you can certainly go way too far in that direction, and there are certain areas -- like foreign bureaus, where the reporting time is the same now as then -- where you don't want to lose staff. But as productivity rapidly increases, either the market has to expand or staffs will be cut. And to make matters worse, much like in manufacturing, the rise of blogs and online magazines has created intense, low-cost competition that simply didn't exist before. The problem, much like in manufacturing, is that we're killing off the positions that we still need and that Nexis hasn't made easier. The bloviators -- like myself -- reproduce, while the resource-intensive reporters, see their resources cut. Which is why we need more projects like this one, or possibly some public subsidies.
August 26, 2007
The New Republic's Latest Charmer
By Kathy G.
Ah, New Republic! You never really do let me down, do you?
I admit to having had a second thought or two about writing this post. Was it, oh, perhaps a teensy weensy bit over the top? A tad intemperate? Might it be said to be lacking the attribute of scrupulous, Olympian fairness and evenhandedness? After all, in that paragraph about what's good about the New Republic, I left out a few names. Noam Scheiber, for example -- now he's a smartie! And Jonathan Cohn -- how could I forget Jonathan Cohn? As someone else put it, Cohn is "the best health care writer not named Ezra Klein."
But then I saw this, and every one of my self-doubts melted away in an instant. In the post, titled "Another Psychotic Creep Writing at The New Republic," Brad DeLong notes the latest charming addition to the New Republic stable, an academic named Philip Jenkins who's now writing for TNR's Open University.
On that blog, Jenkins has been gracing us with his pensees regarding Muslim history. There's this, for example:
[T]he Arabs actually borrowed their much-cited "Muslim science" (the astrolabe and so on) from the Nestorians and other Eastern Christians...
[I]t is rather rich to complain that after the Reconquista, "In an act of utter domination, the Christian king orders the great [Córdoba] mosque consecrated as a Catholic church." Actually, that mosque (like most major Spanish mosques) was itself built on the site of an earlier church.... [T]he purveyors of public broadcasting history have learned something; but they are still offering apologetics, not reality.
But wait, wait -- it gets better! Philip Jenkins, I thought: now where have I heard that name before?
And then it came to me -- of course! Philip Jenkins is the author of Pedophiles and Priests, an infamous screed about the child sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church. It basically amounts to a defense of said pedophiles -- or "the childfuckers" (as my girl Kathy Griffin referred to them in an episode of this season's My Life on the D List).
As the great Garry Wills pointed out in this* memorable filleting of Jenkins in the New York Review of Books, Jenkins's work has been indispensable to reactionary Catholics who have attempted to cover up, downplay, and otherwise evade responsibility for the sexual abuse scandals. Wills wrote:
The principal villains he [Jenkins] found in the priest-pedophile crisis of the 1990s were anti-Catholics, greedy lawyers, self-promoting prosecutors, sensationalistic newspapers, therapists seeking clients, and feminists with their "theology of abuse." He never seems to consider the possibility that the panic was not manufactured, or that many factors impeded rather than promoted the revelation of priestly misconduct. Reluctance to believe, report on, or expose priests is deeply built into American culture.
American bishops and their defenders gladly promoted Jenkins's claim that there was nothing to the priest-pedophile phenomenon but bad faith on the part of those "exploiting" it. They even said that his testimony was stronger and more disinterested because Jenkins is not a Catholic. With his help they dismissed or minimized the "panic," which allowed Cardinal Bernard Law and others to continue sending accused priests about their ordinary ministry with the results we have seen in Boston and elsewhere. When Cardinal Law in the 1990s called down God's judgment on The Boston Globe, he was just putting in his own way Jenkins's attack on "the political interests of the activists and groups who used the media to project their particular interpretation of the putative crisis."
The New Republic -- employer of a defender of childfuckers. Well hey, I've got to hand it them -- it is entirely consistent with the house style of "contrarianism or death." Because the idea that childfucking is not such a bad thing is indisputably contrarian, is it not?
Congratulations, guys! I didn't think it was possible, but you've really outdone yourselves here! I can't think of a single thing you've done that's a more telling expression of your rotted soul.
*The Wills piece is available to subscribers only, but if you email me I'll send you a copy.
August 25, 2007
Spanglish - Really Bad Spanglish
Seen on the New York City Subway among several Bud Light ads allegedly in Spanish, one with the following text:
Tan bueno como encontrar un parking en frente al building
Good God. I have plenty of Latino friends who, when I tell them about this nonsense, they don't know whether to roll their eyes, laugh, puke or all three. I've informally polled a Colombian, Chilean, Argentinean, Dominican, Cuban, Ecuadorian and Puerto Rican, none of whom said that they have heard people butcher their language quite like that. Your subway advertisements are now as good as your beer.
Psst, Anheuser-Busch: the italicized words are not Spanish. I believe the words you're looking for are estacionamiento and edificio, respectively, if you're trying to say "As nice as finding a parking place in front of the building."
I'm not the only one who thinks they're idiotic.
August 23, 2007
Why I hate The New Republic
By Kathy G.
New Republic, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways:
1. I hate the way it is, and has always been, such an Ivy League white boy wankfest. The late, great Steve Gilliard used to say that TNR’s motto was “Looking for a qualified black since 1916” and there is much truth in that. The women writers are also few and far between, and tend to be relegated to girly subjects like poetry and book reviews, not the manly realms of politics and policy.
The sexual and racial uniformity is offensive on principal, of course. Moreover, in practice, it is one of the factors that has caused TNR to suck so hard. For example, there’s the classic TNR genre of pointless look-how-clever-I-am contrarianism. Only in a culture as insular, inbred, and out-of-touch as TNR’s could a style of argument as inane and precious as this one flourish. The obnoxious white boy entitlement complex probably also explains why TNR has harbored more than its share of frauds and fantasists. Because if you’re as special as we are who needs fact-checkers, right?
2. TNR is the Great Journalistic Wanker Machine. Have you ever been reading something on the internets, or listening to some Very Serious Person on the radio or teevee – and thought to yourself: “Shit, the dude who wrote this, or is yammering away on my teevee, is one serious wanker. That just might be the most wankeriffic thing I’ve heard all month! Or all year, even!”
Well, chances are, my friend, that the wanker you’ve had inflicted on you got his start in journalism at, or otherwise spent a significant chunk of their career at, The New Republic. TNR is responsible for foisting more first-class wankers on a blameless public than virtually any other media outlet.
Why, there’s Wanker Most Valuable Player Martin Peretz! Wanker All-Stars Lee Siegel, Peter Beinart, and Jeffrey Rosen! And Wanker Rookie of the Year James Kirchick!
Along with, of course, a veritable Hall of Fame of Wankers Emeritus: Mickey Kaus! Fred Barnes! Morton Kondracke! Charles Krauthammer! James K. Glassman (remember Dow 36,000? Sure you do!)! Michael Kelly! Robert Kagan! Robert Kaplan! Benjamin Wittes! Gregg Easterbrook! Jacob Weisberg! William Saletan! Andrew Sullivan! Camille Paglia!
I know, I know – Mommy, make it stop!
3. The biggest reason of all why I hate TNR, though, is this: the New Republic is the Number One Bitch of the American right.
Whenever conservatives needed the bipartisan cover of an allegedly liberal institution to promote their latest harebrained foreign policy adventure, or reactionary reversal of a longstanding progressive public policy, or vicious smear of progressive American ideas, institutions, and individuals, the New Republic was at the ready, as eager to service them as a brothel full of open-ass punks.
Latecomers to this sordid tale may be under the impression that the New Republic’s fall from grace began with its shameless shilling for the Iraq War, but it didn’t begin there, and it won’t end there, either. Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of those golden moments of yesteryear, shall we?
Over the past two decades, as the right gathered strength and began their attempt to systematically destroy each and every venerable accomplishment of liberalism, here are some of the policies and ideas the New Republic enthusiastically endorsed:
-- a full-service menu of wingnut foreign policy positions, from aid to the contras in Nicaragua during the 80s to saber-rattling against Iran today to the full-throated support of every batshit crazy thing Israel has ever done;
-- well, to put it bluntly, racism – through everything from TNR’s obsessive attempts to discredit Jesse Jackson and its opposition to affirmative action to Martin Peretz’s many ugly insinuations about Arabs and, in what is perhaps the most shameful episode in the magazine’s history, the publication of an excerpt from Charles Murray’s crackpot pseudoscientific racist tract, The Bell Curve;
-- via an error-ridden article by a hack from a wingnut think tank, the torpedoing of Hillary Clinton’s health care proposal, which was the only real shot we’ve had at universal health care in decades;
-- a host of reverse Robin Hood neoliberal economic policies and ideas, from NAFTA to welfare reform to privatizing Social Security to reflexive union-bashing;
-- the gutting of Roe v. Wade (via Jeffrey Rosen’s cute argument that because of alleged flaws in the legal reasoning of Roe, we’d all be better off if abortion was left to the states – try telling that to any poor, pregnant, and desperate woman in red state America);
-- the wingnut persecution of Bill Clinton, in the form of the bullshit Whitewater and Monica “scandals;”
-- Joe Lieberman’s ass-tastic 2004 campaign for President (yes, believe it or not, he got their endorsement); and
-- the recent changes to the FISA law that more or less gave the Bush administration a license to spy on any and all of their political enemies.
Have I forgotten anything?
It could be argued that, in recent years, TNR has reversed course on a host of issues, and indeed it has – it did a 180 on affirmative action, the economic policies it now endorses are a lot more populist, and many of its writers have reversed themselves on the Iraq war.
And it could be pointed out that even today, The New Republic still produces some first-rate journalism – just in the past week, for example, there was this and this. Interspersed occasionally among the wankers, it’s also published a host of terrific writers, including Thomas Frank, Rick Perlstein, Chris Hayes, Spencer Ackerman, James Wolcott, and Terry Castle. It gave my favorite political writer, Thomas Geoghegan, his start in journalism. It must be said, however, that none of those writers, except Ackerman (now departed) and I believe Geoghegan, has ever held a staff position on TNR.
Among current and recent staff writers, I’m a fan of Jonathan Chait’s writing on economics and tax policy. I thought Ryan Lizza’s devastating piece on George Allen was a service to the nation (because, believe me, without it the Senate would still be in Republican hands and we’d be dealing with that gigantic asshole as the presumptive frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination).
But if you focus on the high points of TNR, you miss the forest for the trees. As a journalistic institution, TNR plays a unique role in the development of policy and politics. Its circulation has always been low (and in recent years has declined drastically), but many of the people who read it are very powerful: media elites, D.C. lobbyists and activists, and policymakers in the White House and the Senate, and on Capitol Hill. If TNR supports a particular policy or idea, that carries serious weight, especially when what it supports is conservative. It enables the right to say, “Even the liberal New Republic endorses X,” and that has tremendous credibility and resonance. It doesn’t matter if 19 out of 20 articles in a given issue are liberal; the one wingnutty one out of the 20 will, by virtue of its setting, be all the more influential.
To explain it a little more fully: I remember an example I had in a game theory class, where a leader is deciding to go to war or not. The leader has two advisers, one known to be a hawk and the other known to be a dove. The basic insight was that the leader would tend to listen more seriously to a dove urging war or a hawk urging peace, because the advice each was giving would be against type, and thus had extra credibility. That’s why politicians like Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman are so deeply damaging to Democrats, because when they say anti-war Democrats are unpatriotic, uninformed people will think there’s something to it. Whereas when Bush and Cheney say such things it’s par for the course.
The same principle applies to the New Republic: when a venerable liberal institution like TNR strongly endorses a breathtaking range of illiberal positions, and starts smearing liberals who disagree with them as extremist and unpatriotic in the bargain, the damage it does to the liberal cause is profound.
The New Republic’s 25-year jihad against liberalism has had dire consequences for this country, and the world. Under this administration, we have seen the needless and tragic annihilation of one of the great American cities. We’ve seen economic inequality soar to near-record levels. We’ve seen a Supreme Court habitually given to reactionary reversals of long-settled doctrines, like Brown v. Board of Education. We’ve seen a religious right sufficiently emboldened to broaden its anti-abortion campaign and start targeting a woman’s right to birth control as well. We’ve seen global warming develop apace, with our leaders making zero serious efforts to control it. We’ve seen a dangerously ignorant and frighteningly out-of-control chief executive who seemingly delights in pissing all over the Constitution at any opportunity.
And then there’s the little matter of those 500,000 rotting corpses in Iraq, and a national reputation that is in tatters all over the world, and will likely remain that way for decades.
Though God knows they weren’t the only ones, New Republic played an indispensable role in enabling these maniacs, every step of the way.
And now these pricks want to say they’re sorry? Well -- cry me a river, bitches.
In short: New Republic, fuck you very much.
August 22, 2007
Today's Captain Renault award goes to . . .
By Kathy G.
Claude Rains is shocked, shocked!
Salon reports the shocking, shocking! news that the DC "hot" reporter contest was rigged.
August 18, 2007
The Great S&M Amusement Corp.
By Kathy G.
Kirk Douglas in Ace in the Hole (Billy Wilder, 1951)
Today Digby writes about the disgraceful way the media has kowtowed to Bob Murray, the owner of the mine that collapsed in Utah. Sadly, the media (the teevee media at least) have by and large let Murray set the agenda and have failed to ask hard questions about dubious safety practices in this and other mines he owns. In addition, they have all but ignored the way the right in general and the Bush administration in particular have done their best to destroy unions and gut the enforcement of workplace safety regulations, two enormously important contributing factors to this disaster.
Next week I’ll have more to say about the policy issues implicated in this tragedy. But for now I want to heartily second Digby's recommendation that you check out Billy Wilder’s film, Ace in the Hole (aka The Big Carnival). This film, when it was originally released, was a box office and critical disaster. It was out of circulation for many years, but lately it’s been showing up on Turner Classic Movies with some frequency (it will be broadcast there again on August 26th), and recently it (finally) was released on DVD.
The reason Digby brings up Ace in the Hole in the context of the Utah mine disaster is that the film’s plot revolves around a somewhat similar media circus. It concerns a man trapped in a mine collapse. A reporter (Kirk Douglas) gets wind of the story, but rather than helping to rescue him, he conspires with local officials to keep him trapped there as long as possible. The reason? The longer he’s there the better it is for Douglas’s career, because it’s a great story that sells newspapers. The local officials and business people also have their own self-interested reasons for not going to the man’s aid.
Given that Ace in the Hole has a mixed reputation at best, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But in general I’m a big fan of Wilder’s work so when it screened on TCM earlier this year I decided to check it out. I watched it with three of my best cinephile friends. None of us had ever seen it. I remember at a certain point, we all looked at one another, and my friend Kyle pronounced, “This is a totally fucking awesome movie!”
Which it is. It is certainly one of Wilder’s strongest films, and I think a lot of people are now realizing this for the first time.
But Jesus Christ, this is one cynical film! It’s cynical even for Wilder, who, let’s not forget, is the dude who made films like Double Indemnity and Sunset Blvd., which are about as dark as Hollywood gets. Yet Ace in the Hole outdoes them both in its sour view of human nature. Watching it is like a full-body immersion in an acid bath. I mean, up until that time, was there ever a character in a Hollywood film consumed with as much self-loathing as Kirk Douglas is here?
As I mentioned before, contemporary critics mostly hated this film, even the more discerning ones. Pauline Kael said of the film, “Some people have tried to claim some sort of satirical brilliance for it, but it's really just nasty, in a sociologically pushy way.” Andrew Sarris said that the film “proved” that Wilder was “inadequate for the more serious demands of . . . social allegory.” That was before Sarris’s famous reversal on Wilder, whom he now considers to be among the pantheon of great directors. But still . . .
I think part of the reason critics like Sarris and Kael recoiled from the film is that they thought the portrayal of the media was completely over the top. Wilder’s depiction of the media’s utter heartlessness and craven devotion to nothing bigger than its own self-interest must have seemed grotesquely exaggerated. But you know what? In the post-Iraq, post-Judy Miller era, it’s not especially hard to accept the film’s premise, and Wilder’s pitch black view of the media. In 1951, though, people weren’t ready for this film. Ace in the Hole is a great example of a work of art that was misunderstood in its own time. But man, does it ever speak to our own.
Btw, the title of this post refers to one of my favorite Wilderian touches in the movie. The mine collapse has become a 24-7 media circus, drawing crowds so large that enterprising hucksters set up an actual carnival on the site. The name on the carnival trucks? “The Great S&M Amusement Corp.”
One last thing: I also join Digby and Jane Hamsher in urging that you check out the classic documentary Harlan County U.S.A., which also is now available on DVD. It’s often cited as one of the greatest documentaries ever made, which it totally is – politically galvanizing and emotionally heart-wrenching. Though it’s over 30 years old, I saw it earlier this year and it holds up beautifully.
Coups and Earthquakes
By Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons
For those of you who do not know my blog, I write primarily about Latin America with a special interest in Brazil (more about me here). So, while Ezrinho is revisiting his raizes brasileiras, he was kind enough to ask me to fill in.
Matt Yglesias made the following comment here about Wednesday's earthquake in Peru:
I have nothing to say about it, but it seems wrong not to recognize these tragedies and their victims.
Of course it's not wrong to recognize these tragedies and their victims. What is wrong is that so much of what we hear in the news about Latin America involves these sorts of tragedies and political upheaval.
In the early 1980's I read a book that profoundly changed my view of how media in the US report the developing world back to us. The book, Coups and Earthquakes was written by Mort Rosenblum and it was a compelling analysis of media coverage in the US of the world outside the US and Europe. The title essentially reiterates the MSM focus on the developing world.
Unfortunately, precious little has changed. Google "bus plunge" and you'll see what I mean. Do the same with "coup de etat" or "strongman dictator" and you'll get the idea. How many media outlets report the fact that Brazil is leading the way in developing smaller commercial jets via Embraer and created 247 jobs in Ft. Lauderdale? How often do we hear that Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (CVRD) is the world's leading miner of iron ore? Before Hugo Chávez, how often did the MSM mention that Citgo was owned by PDVSA, the state-owned oil company of Venezuela? Much was made of the fact that in Michael Moore's film Sicko, that the US was just ahead of Slovenia in terms of health care, but I don't recall anyone mentioning that the US was just behind Costa Rica. Has anyone heard any mention that Banco Bradesco was the third bank in the world to provide online banking to its customers in 1996?
Admittedly, much of this wonkish, but it bears pointing out. I hope in my short stay here to perhaps dispel some myths about and spur some interest in Latin America.
August 08, 2007
US President George W. Bush charged Monday that Iran has openly declared that it seeks nuclear weapons -- an inaccurate accusation at a time of sharp tensions between Washington and Tehran.
"It's up to Iran to prove to the world that they're a stabilizing force as opposed to a destabilizing force. After all, this is a government that has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon," he said during a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
But Iran has repeatedly said that its nuclear program, which is widely believed in the West to be cover for an effort to develop atomic weapons, is for civilian purposes.
Asked to provide examples of Tehran openly declaring that it seeks atomic weapons, White House officials contacted by AFP said that Bush was referring to Iran's defiance of international calls to freeze sensitive nuclear work.
Look at that! A string of words and punctuation marks in the very first sentence that manage to not only report on the substance of the President's comments, but on their accuracy as well. It's as if this news story was trying to leave me informed, rather than conform to some mysterious stylistic standards meant to protect the writer from criticism.