The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, April 30, 2004

Pelosi allowed a straight shill on Franken

Comstock Queen Nancy Pelosi deeply underwhelming on the Franken show today on Air America - though I allow for the possibility of shards of brilliance confined to the several interruptions to the stream that happened during her interview!

She had the nerve to blame - unchallenged, so far as I could tell, by Mr Fair and Balanced - the GOP for the Medicare bill, with not a word on the treason of Senate Dems, 22 of whom voted for cloture to defeat the filibuster organised by Ted Kennedy on the bill [1].

Now, a party that laid the red carpet for the likes of Bilbo and 'Cotton Ed' Smith is unlike to strain at the gnats who did Big Pharma's dirty work. And, Franken might well have reasoned, it would be a shame if suckers who might otherwise have voted the ticket were dissuaded from turning out by futile honesty about the bipartisan corruption of business as usual on the Hill.

Interesting to compare Franken's show with an Air America show on earlier in the day, which, in the snatch I caught, had a guest speculating that Hillary Clinton saw Kerry as running to lose [2], and a Götterdämmerung of the Bush regime in a second term preceding a triumphal Clinton return to the White House in '09. The idea seemed to be greeted with some approbation by those present.

Letting a hundred flowers bloom or complete management shambles? Answers on a postcard...

  1. For several pieces analysing the sorry business, trace back from my April 17 piece.

  2. A notion I mentioned yesterday. Bob Dole in 1996, I suppose, was the most striking recent example of the phenomenon.


The all-round dumbest gotcha of the campaign?

So far, at least. (Six months to go, as if we could forget...)

A sidebar on the issue Did Kerry throw medals or ribbons or what? - during the 1971 protests, did Kerry sleep on the Mall with his buddies or sneak away to clean cotton sheets in a Georgetown town-house?

Kaus started it, apparently [1]; the bait was taken, eg, here and here.

And they wonder why half of Americans don't bother to vote...

  1. Bonus points, though, for namechecking Spiro Agnew!


The truth as non-operative - knowledge that isn't knowledge

The piece next door on the press cover-up of Bush's inarticulacy is a reminder of how facts may be public, but unknown.

Getting the story out is a notion driving many a Hollywood story arc. It features in fave film of the blog, Mr Smith Goes To Washington, for instance. The mere exposure of wrongdoing to the gaze of the masses will result in its amelioration.

After all - the argument would go - all that effort that pols and business and other powerful interests put in to keeping stuff secret has to have a point. Revering the process must be a win for the good guys.

Except - as has cropped up here a good many times - it doesn't work that way.

For instance, McCarthy's manipulations were called good and early - and by no less an organ than the Washington Post. McCarthy's opening salvo came on the Thursday, and the Post ran an editorial on the following Tuesday under the hed Sewer Politics (October 16 2002).

The prima facie evidence provided by Sydney Schanberg of dirty doings by John Kerry as Chairman of the POW/MIA Committee (March 5) has (so far as I can see) failed to secure any kind of follow-up in mainstream media.

And Bob Woodward's May 19 2002 front page article in the Washington Post naming the title of the August 6 2001 PDB that (the article, that is) got mysteriously forgotten, Nexis notwithstanding, so as to be splashed by Drudge as a revelation - and treated as news by the 'respectable' press (April 12).

We're familiar with the notion of Conventional Wisdom - that Al Gore boasted of having invented the Internet, and the likes: misleading or false soundbites meant to infiltrate water-cooler chatter and attain the status of truth.

But the strange oblivion of the title of the PDB wasn't a disinformation operation of the RNC: it was evidently an artefact of the mechanics of news dissemination works, the resultant of all sorts of forces. Partisan manipulation, certainly; but also the very notion of news - the Post's lead needing to be a hard news story, in inverted pyramid form. And new.

Richard Goldstein in the Village Voice (April 27) bewails the fact that media critics obsess about trivia and industry gossip, and never tackle fundamental issues:
what most editors want from media writers today is industrial reporting, which means hiring, firing, backstabbing, bottom lines, and schadenfreude-producing errors.

But I wonder whether a lot of journos wouldn't look on providing the public with proper analysis of the way news works much as the Magic Circle views magicians who explain how tricks work...


The allusion in the hed is to the little rhyme about 19th century Master of Balliol Benjamin Jowett (various formulations here and here) along these lines:
Here I come, my name is Jowett
All there is to know, I know it
What I don't know, is not knowledge
I am the Master of this College.

Whilst I think of it, Viceroy of India Viscount Curzon also has his own anonymous verse:
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person,
My cheek is pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim once a week.


That damned liberal media filter-ing Bush's flubs

As I mentioned before (April 15), the Supreme Court in the Jeffrey Masson case gave American journalists considerable leeway in tweaking the actual words used before putting them between quotation marks.

And one standard practice, in reporting statements by non-native speakers of English, and the pig-ignorant, is to correct their syntax, mispronunciations and assorted linguistic snafus. A faithful rendering, say, of the words of a practitioner of 'ebonics' would lead to conniptions amongst the grievance-prone.

President Bush is doubly an Ivy League man; yet he gets exactly the same indulgence from the press [1].

The Chicago Tribune ombud Don Wycliff illustrates (April 29) with Bush's performance in front of the American Society of Newspaper Editors last week:
If the press were not protecting Bush, you'd have read in your Chicago Tribune--or Washington Post or New York Times or Wall Street Journal or USA Today--that he delivered one of the most confusing, inarticulate public addresses since ... well, some people would say since his press conference a week earlier.

Instead, these fine organs either ignored the performance, or picked the least moronic parts, and prettified them
because the reporters, trained to seek meaning and the meaningful in any utterance by the president, focused on what could be understood.

A whole bunch of What the President meant to say was...

The guy quotes correspondence with a reader who objected to the Tribune 'interpreting' as malfeasance Bush's use of a word sounding like misfeance. He'd written back supporting the substitution:
I have always felt that transmitting meaning is paramount...

But also one has the reflex genuflection of the US media to power and status - and objective journalism. The President is Head of State - and respect to the office demands that he cannot be reported as a fumbling fool, even if that's the way he sounds.

It takes us one level on from the press' stenographic reporting of Joseph McCarthy's inconsistent formulations of subversives in the State Department back in February 1950: at least, McCarthy didn't put the stenographers to the trouble of rewriting his copy to make (literal) sense of it!

Perhaps it's on the same plane as the continual lie-by-omission perpetrated by the press in denying throughout his presidency that Franklin Roosevelt was a cripple.

Except that, with Bush, the Great Unwashed have had their noses rubbed in the evidence of his inarticulacy on prime-time TV. Not often, but often enough for the fact to be no secret. And the effect of this evidence appears to be underwhelming.

It must be case of mind over matter: the western equivalent of the Indian Rope Trick. A president must be presidential, and wishing will make it so.

But is articulacy actually prized as an American virtue? The frontiersman, the cowboy, the homesteader - these icons are not noted for their gift of the gab. Politicians, certainly, are expected to be slick: but the President of the United States is more than a politician. He represents the country, an icon pro tempore himself.

And, of course, it taps the idea of the hostility of ordinary folks towards intellectuals. As, of course, the rough-and-ready Joe McCarthy did when he attacked those intellectuals - Communists, homosexuals and other deviants - in the State Department [2]. Book-learning felt as fundamentally un-American.

(Of course, these feelings themselves - embarrassing as they are to the ear - necessarily have to remain unarticulated!)

  1. TV, the more impactful and popular medium, is limited in the clean-up it can do. But somehow, the evidence of their own eyes fails to persuade a lot of viewers.

  2. These days, State is a hotbed of Arabists and apologists for the Axis of Weasels...


For the Arabist tendencies at State - railed against by Newt Gingrich, etc, - work back from the May 16 2003 piece.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Air America talks Israel-Palestine - kinda

It's the archetypal don't go there issue for Dem supporters.

Franken deals with it once a day with the tag to his Oy, oy, oy segment: he asks sidekick Katherine Lanpher What's up with Israel - and she replies You don't wanna know.

He's a funny guy; but it's wearing thin.

Now, just dipping in to the dreadful Morning Sedition, a caller actually calls the station on its silence radio on the issue.

And the Brit presenter, evidently uncomfortable, admits there's a knock-on in providing pretext for insurgents in Iraq, but It's so complicated, it's difficult for people to get their heads around.

Next caller.

All this prompted by a discussion about the need to get behind Kerry - sparked by the Village Voice piece by James Ridgeway John Kerry Must Go. (Tell us what you really think, why don't you?)

Now one might have thought that now would be the time when the liberal Air America and its listeners would be making their pitch to get their policies onto Kerry's agenda. (Does anyone worry about the platform as such any more?)

On the other hand, civil war between the Arabush-bashers and the honest-brokers amongst Democratic supporters, Kerry could certainly do without.

Should Air America really be shutting down debate on divisive issues like Israel-Palestine? Bad radio and bad politics, I suspect.


Talk between the umpteen presenters [1] on the Morning Sedition show about the need to get behind Kerry reminded me of Lyndon Johnson's line about Ngo Dinh Diem, said to journos on the flight back from Saigon in (from memory) March 1961 (and oft repeated here): Hell, he's the only son-of-a-bitch we got.

Of course, Kerry is not Diem in oh so many ways. But a recognition of a lack of any alternative may be good for morale (eliminating druthers, stiffening resolve, etc) or may tend to sow despair. It may also cast doubt on the sanity of those who skewed the primary campaign calendar early with the intent of getting down to a single candidate as soon as possible.

Sink or swim with John F Kerry - I can feel the base energising as I write...

  1. Actually three, but sounding like umpteen.


One of Tony Blair's favourite phrases is some variant of There is no Plan B. Deployed most notably in the context of the lie-fest that was the so-called Northern Ireland peace process, a more than adequate preparation for the industrial scale truth-manipulation surrounding the Iraq invasion. (As if Blair needed the practice...)

(Confirmation of the sad reality has finally made it into official print in the form of the report of the Independent Monitoring Commission.)

Much was made before he became prime minister of the fact that Tony Blair MP is an anagram of I am Tory Plan B. And, of course, the anagram, unlike the politician, cannot lie...


Dem Senators giving Negroponte a free pass

In the demonology of the American left, few of those still in public office have a name as black as John Negroponte.

Yet, it seems, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have decided to let the guy's nomination as Iraqi Ambassador through on the nod.

A prime opportunity for the Dems to energise the base, divert the media's attention from those damned ribbons - or do I mean medals? - and have themselves a bit of fun. And they make it a formality.

Democracy Now has Senator Christopher Dodd (D:CT) telling the committee:
Since this is a non-traditional confirmation hearing, I was trying to recall a similar kind of a hearing. We haven't gone the extent that the finance committee did a number of years ago when our former colleague Lloyd Benton was nominated by President Clinton to be Secretary of the Treasury...They actually voted him out before they started the questions. We're not going that far, John, here, but in a sense, what I'm getting at here, it's obvious that this committee is going to confirm your nomination...I don't think anything that you are going to say is going to dissuade any of us that you should not be the choice and get this job done.

I've seen a ceremonial first pitch thrown out with more vigour!

An NPR piece yesterday managed to discuss Negroponte without mentioning Latin America, death squads, Battalion 316 or anything of the sort.

And, on the spearhead of the liberal media fightback, Al Franken's show on Air America, again, nada. (That I recall.)

Not that razzing the guy about Honduras is going to stop him getting confirmed. And, since (as I understand) Negroponte's Latin adventures were widely aired during his UN Ambassador confirmation in 2001, perhaps the Dems didn't like to be seen repeating themselves. (Politicians repeating themselves? They hate that.)

But, with Kerry for the moment floundering, covering fire from the Hill might have helped.

If those Senators had gone hog-wild on Negroponte's ass, it would even have given the Massachusetts liberal a chance to be the voice of moderation...


Matthew Yglesias in American Prospect (April 26) blames

  1. Kerry for not giving a lead - on Negroponte or any other foreign policy issue;

  2. Congressional Dems for waiting for Kerry to give them a lead;

  3. the media for waiting for Congressional Dems to give them a lead.

I've seen suggestions that even Dems are figuring that Kerry is running to lose to leave Hillary Clinton a clear run in '08. You can see where they might get that idea.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

New RSS Feed - at last

I gave the previous feed two or three days to return to normal. It's toast - and I'm now trying a Feedster feed (RSS 2.0) - link on the left. It gives every appearance of working - but, as usual, no promises.

The Atom feed seems fine, too. Spooky...


Viacom's Karmazin links FCC censorship with media regulation

A hed to remember:

To get a top media suit to bang the First Amendment drum over content that icky suggests the Congressional Comstocks and the FCC trailing in their wake have succeeded in getting the industry's goat. (Let's not go there...)

Ken Auletta (will he give us a write-up?) was hosting A Conversation With Mel Karmazin in which the big man comes out swinging:
We are fighting in Iraq for freedom. ... If it doesn't appeal to you, shut the radio off. Just because you don't like the words 'anal sex,' doesn't make it indecent.

And he linked the censorship issue with regulation more generally, saying that
Republicans had not shown they were less regulatory minded than Democrats when it came to big media companies.

Viacom seems to be preparing to duke it out in court: subsidiary Infinity appealed the Stern fine of March 18 (April 25), and was co-signatory to the petition asking the FCC to review the new censorship regime for constitutionality (April 21).

The Comstocks in the FCC (led by Michael Copps) and Congress seem intent on confrontation, too. One would expect this sort of dispute to end in messy compromise. But, with so many parties, so much fervour and pride invested, and an election coming up, the prospect of a train wreck must be more than usually high.

Stern, one suspects, will be first to walk out of it...

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Uncle Bob Woodward and the anonymice

I haven't read Woodward's Plan of Attack, so I'm certainly not going to review it.

But the improbably named David Folkenflik has a useful piece (April 25) in the Baltimore Sun on the question of Woodward's terminal addiction to anonymous sourcing.

Which, so far as I'm aware, has been the guy's MO right back to Watergate days, if not earlier. No surprises are being sprung. It's just that we're all rather more sensitive to the iniquities of the practice.

He's free to publish, and we're free to treat it as fiction. Big Boys Rules.

The disturbing aspect is the relationship of the Woodward book-writing enterprise with the Washington Post. As Michael Getler pointed out (April 25), he's a fixture on the front page (ten pieces in sixteen months) - and an assistant managing editor to boot. The book gets serialised in the paper. He doesn't get book leave.

Woodward, WaPo and his books are all melded.

Instinctively, I feel there ought to be some kind of Glass-Steagall Act in operation here.

Getler also addresses the issue I raised on April 20 about Woodward keeping back the good stuff for his book that otherwise would have gone into the paper.

He quotes Executive Editor Leonard Downie:
Those interviews would not have taken place otherwise. We would never have had this at all were it not for the book, never have known the full story.

Downie explains Woodward's MO:
Woodward's "method" is to keep going "back and back and back to people and to gather more and more documents as he goes along. He doesn't always have a clear picture, and so it would be difficult to stop suddenly and do a story based on where he was at the moment. Further reporting sometimes convinces you to look at something another way. The whole purpose was to produce a coherent narrative, not a series of incremental steps.

Keep drinking the Kool-Aid, buddy...


Carl Cannon, president of the White House Correspondents' Association, has another angle on Woodward's book (USA Today April 25):
once this White House tells its story to Bob, it thinks the story's been told and there's no need to talk again.

Cannon implies that, if Bob hadn't been there, the White House would have spilt their guts to the regular Joes in the press corps. Another Kool-Aid aficionado, methinks.


The St Louis Post-Dispatch rounds up opinion on the Woodward book from hacks and historians.

The WaPo's Downie told the P-D (emphasis in the text)
-It is consistent with our guidelines
on anonymous sourcing.

Downie's piece launching the guidelines (March 8) suggested they weren't worth the paper they were written on: that he thinks Woodward's book conforms with them rather confirms it.

The historians say footnotes are a downer with the popular audience.


Bolivia: top soldier confirms absolutely zero chance of a coup. Honest.

Imagine turning to your Gray Lady, and finding an interview with CJCS General Richard Myers confirming with some vigour that no one in the US forces had any intention of mounting an insurrection.

Bliss it would be to have shorted one's entire portfolio the day before...

Whereas, in Bolivia, when General Luis Aranda says it (mutatis mutandis), it's evidently supposed to inspire confidence.

The interview in El Deber of (relatively prosperous) Santa Cruz (April 27) needs to be savoured whole.

But here's a flavour:
- ¿Usted podría identificar el origen de esos rumores o qué intereses hay de por medio?

- No podría decirle exactamente de dónde provienen. Son anónimos, pueden venir de cualquier parte.

- ¿Cuál es la percepción que tiene de la actual situación político-social del país? ¿Se podrían repetir los hechos de octubre pasado?

- Usted sabe que no podemos deliberar, pero pensamos que la buena conducción del Gobierno, la comprensión de los sectores sociales y políticos pueden dar lugar a que se busquen las soluciones a los problemas y todo eso de forma pacífica, unida, negociada y mediante la comunicación entre unos y otros. Confiamos en eso y creemos que las cosas están muy conflictivas, pero se irán resolviendo de manera concertada.

What is known in cricket circles as a straight bat.

I've just dipped in: no context, purely touristique. I've no information either way on the likelihood of a military coup. (My recollection from when I was following the play-by-play in Bolivia is that the military are genuinely reluctant - been there, got the T-shirt.)

But the general's rather British sang-froid I thought worthy of a footnote.


Anti-abortionists hooting over new poll

When we discussed the issue, yesterday, it was to focus on the difficulties of selling the pro-abortion message to the US public.

Now, a Zogby poll (can't locate the details on the Zogby site - perhaps that's just me) is being lauded in that journal of record, Life News:
a total of 56 percent agreed with one of the following pro-life views: abortion should never be legal (18 percent), legal only when the life of the mother is in danger (15 percent) or legal only when the life of the mother is in danger or in cases of rape or incest (23 percent).

And, most importantly, anti-abortion sentiment is rife amongst the young, it seems:
In the Zogby poll, 60 percent of 18-29 year-olds took one of the pro-life positions on abortion while only 39 percent agreed with the three pro-abortion stances.

Hispanics support a pro-life position by a 78-21 percent margin, African Americans backed the pro-life perspective 62-38.

Not enough to change votes, surely?

MORE (May 20)

A PDF file of the results.


Sucker!: Politics and media as a board-game

We're in the first US election of the online era [1]. You snap your fingers - that quintessential American gesture - cf the Gallic shrug - and you've got online news and comment out the wazoo. (In more ways than one...)

It's a souk: hucksters, sideshows, touts, all kinds of odours. All the mysteries of the Orient, only its strictly occidental. The mind spins; the temptation is to play the tourist and surrender to the moment.

And - bang! - goes your credit cards.

It's as American as apple pie, of course. Phineas T Barnum didn't have to go to Nantucket, even, for his shtick.

And it's equally as American for the stiff-collared and bluestockinged goo-goos to whine away about the decadence of the Republic.

The point is that, since the start of said Republic, there have always been suckers, and those in, or seeking, high office, who have exploited them. There have always been hacks prepared to write anything that would make a newspaper that sold.

Puerile, drutherful bleating about Bush's contempt for the press [2], however, is at the antipode of the sort of independence of mind and resourcefulness that Europeans admire in the American character. For every lynch mob, there is a Miss Habersham [3]. Tout et son contraire as I've mentioned before (April 14).

Only the resources a Miss Habersham can draw on - online and other - are now so vast. The smartest of us can be suckered: but we can all put some effort into avoiding the ignominy. Every man his own fact-checker, as I've suggested more than once. To quote out of context - Arbeit macht frei.

So, I think of it as a game. Americans spend billions on games - the non-betting kind - for the intellectual challenge and emotional resonance. 'The News' is also a game: a whole bunch of nasty stuff that wants to reduce us to mental servitude, and has the gamut of PR manipulation, and tons of money, with which to do it. And every one of its is our own game-hero, using cunning and knowledge to win through.

The underlying issues - war, first of all - are deadly serious, of course: I'm talking about the politics.

But there's no denying that the high stakes make the political game fizz.

  1. More electronic than 2002 or 2000, at least. We have blogs!

  2. A good deal of Why, oh Why! angsting over at PressThink, for instance.

  3. From Intruder in the Dust, natch. Also, this essay.


Brownstein picks Kerry's heel-click on Bush-Sharon Pact

You read it here first (April 21).

But now LA Times star Ron Brownstein (April 26) calls Kerry on his bizarre Meet the Press free pass to Bush's giveaway on Israel/Palestine:
MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday, President Bush broke with the tradition and policy of six predecessors when he said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes. Do you support President Bush?


MR. RUSSERT: Completely?


The hed: Kerry Skips Nuance on Mideast Policy When It's Needed Most.

Browstein points out of Kerry that
Rarely does he answer a foreign policy question without qualifications that hedge his position...

And comments on the exchange with Russert:
Kerry probably hasn't answered an important question in so few words since his wedding day.

Leno's calling back. Honest.

Was Kerry just on defense with the Jewish vote in mind? Brownstein asks, but does not answer.

Either way, he finishes,
For all Kerry's promises of a more cooperative and nuanced foreign policy, it is not clear after the last few days that the senator does either.

(About Kerry's foreign policy, I wondered yesterday.)


The Boston Globe also had a Kerry foreign policy piece yesterday [1].

The familiar upshot: don't expect much change in substance with a Kerry administration - Kerry may be happy dealing with complicated table settings and the legendary 246 kinds of French cheese, but strip the soigné veneer and - apparently, the upcoming issue of Foreign Policy has an article entitled George W Kerry.

Or as Rand Beers, Kerry's top foreign policy adviser says,
Much of American foreign policy is bipartisan.

Ivo Daalder of Brookings [2] is brought in for the upsum:
The world we live in is not going to be terribly different under a Bush presidency and a Kerry presidency....

(I've spared you some platitudinous mandarin prose.)

Now, I'm no foreign policy expert, but I sense an outbreak of Conventional Wisdom. Surely bipartisan fails to do justice to the discontinuity - the PNAC factor, one might oversimplify it - between Bush and Clinton policy? Bipartisan has the comforting suggestion of happy consensus; whereas I get the feeling that a lot of Dem support for Bush foreign policy has been coerced, under the pressure of 9/11-related factors. Kerry's record on Iraq one might consider under that heading.

How, to pick a topic at random, about pre-emptive [3] war? In his February 27 2004 speech - on the much-maligned foreign policy page of his site - he says (emphasis mine)
Where he’s acted, his doctrine of unilateral preemption has driven away our allies and cost us the support of other nations.

Robbery sanctified provided you have enough felons in the gang. How many allies needed to shake the unilateral tag? Tony Blair alone doesn't count, evidently.

We'll be this way again very soon, I'm sure.

  1. The scribe, Farah Stockman, I don't know from a hole in the ground. She got an award for a feature piece under the luxuriant dek We're both children of black and white marriages. I grew up to become a journalist; Leo Felton became a neo-Nazi racist. And I wanted to know why. But she seems to do some some foreign policy stuff, too.

  2. Ex-Clinton NSC staffer on the Bosnia beat (Uh oh...) and author of America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy.

  3. Should pre-emptive be left to cover legal uses of force against an enemy preparing to cross the border (the Caroline case, etc), and with preventative used to cover the just in case war as with Bush's invasion of Iraq? For another time...

Monday, April 26, 2004

Hoax hate crime professor charged

Didn't I mention the case already? Apparently not.

It's a snappy immediate lede from AP (April 26):
A Claremont McKenna College psychology professor who claimed someone vandalized her car with racist and anti-Semitic slurs was charged Monday with filing a false police report and insurance fraud, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office said.

Kerri Dunn's victim status was that she was
a Catholic "considering" converting to Judaism
how did Dunn's purported assailants know this?

Actual investigation took time to occur: the grievance-meisters shoot first and ask questions later:
Reaction was immediate and forceful. The day after the March 9 incident, all classes were dismissed, and students, staff and faculty staged daylong sit-ins, teach-ins, forums and rallies. Speakers emotionally denounced the hate crime on the campus of Claremont McKenna College, one of seven private colleges and universities in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Apparently, Dunn has a conviction for shoplifting.

The woman is white: one can't help wondering whether, in similar circumstances, the cops would have charged a hoaxer of colour. No doubt, one could have relied on Al Sharpton to stand in the schoolhouse door for any budding Tawana Brawley...


Kerry foreign policy. Anyone?

To recap: the Plawg has kinda-sorta endorsed Kerry on the basis that
  1. his victory would punish a president who waged pre-emptive war (my overwhelming priority for the election); and

  2. Bush, in his person or policies, offers no countervailing reasons not to punish him for waging such war: he flunked affirmative action, has the fiscal discipline of a Big Government liberal and has toxic social policies (on abortion and censorship, to name but two).

In this reasoning, Kerry's positive attributes don't really play much of a role: he's the only Not-Bush with the possibility of becoming president, so beggars can't be choosers.

However, curiosity leads me to consider just what he might do if elected - first of all, in the field of foreign policy.

One or two initial thoughts:

I'm not clear there is any equivalent in the development of Kerry's foreign policy to the September 2000 PNAC paper which foreshadowed Bush's National Security Strategy and much else.

As to Kerry's own positions, my initial impression, having started to look out stuff on the subject, is that, on substantive policy, he's pretty close to Bush, except that he has the temperament and inclination to play the diplomatic game [1].

On Israel, as I noted on April 21, he falls in with Bush's unexpected generosity to Sharon without batting an eyelid.

I looked on April 4 at the foreign policy page of Kerry's website . I wasn't impressed then; and the page seems to have been embalmed in its then state. (No mention of that Israel thing, for instance.)

Kerry's foreign policy is evidently developing (to coin a phrase). My understanding of it certainly is!

  1. His OnTheIssues page on foreign policy; left-wingers fearing Kerry as business as usual in the area here, based as much on the advisers he's chosen as on policy pronouncements he's made: here and here; a questionnaire from Peace Action asks about Kerry's views on pre-emptive war: He didn't say yes, he didn't say no...


Abortion: the bright line and the smear

The bright line is the threat that a new Supreme Court roster will overturn Roe v Wade: a clear, yes or no answer is implied. The smear is the result of trying to draw the line on the legality of performing an abortion in particular cases. Questions of gestation period, abnormality, waiting times, state funding, etc, etc. (The difficulties of abortion rights supporters in relation to strategy I discussed yesterday.)

On the drawing of the line, not even the most ardent pro-abortion lobbyist, I suspect, would claim the right to abortion on demand up to 40 weeks. Which implies that a line must be drawn somewhere. It's messy and hard to develop any sort of PR message around.

No wonder pro-abortion groups major on the threat to Roe. As in John Kerry's latest ad.

The V/O gets right to the point:
The Supreme Court is just one vote away from outlawing a woman's right to choose...

The guys at Factcheck have checked: and the Kerry ad is wrong. The correct number is two.

They figure it this way: Planned Parenthood v Casey broke 5-4 for Roe. Since, anti-Roe White has retired, replaced by pro-Roe Ginsburg. Only Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas remain of the Casey nay-sayers.

The pro-abortion lobby counts Kennedy on the strength of his vote with the Three Horsemen in the Nebraska partial birth abortion case of Stenberg v Carhart.

As usual, Stenberg is fractured - if not quite the pick-n-mix abortion (as it were) one sees with some USSC cases. Factcheck points out that Kennedy's dissent - joined in by Rehnquist - includes the sentence
The holding of Casey, allowing a woman to elect abortion in defined circumstances, is not in question here.

Kennedy was arguing that there were acceptable alternatives to the methods proscribed by the Nebraska PBA law. He was necessarily assuming that Roe was still good law.

At first blush, it's a pretty crass piece of spin. (Spin that's checkable online in seconds...) Since so much of the case against Bush is his terminal inability to stick to the facts, it doesn't help Kerry to be caught weaselling himself.

Perhaps there are subtleties not immediately apparent. Re-read Stenberg, I think...


The PR attractions of majoring on the Supreme Court and Roe, rather than on more detailed issues with abortion law and practice, is that almost all of the applicable law is state law. The NARAL site has a page from which summary information for the several states may be had, whose complexity illustrates the point.

There is now Federal law in the form of S3 and HR 1997, which makes the PR task a little easier (one law instead of 50!). The litigation being mounted against S 3 in various District Courts is can be followed from the Federal Abortion Bans Trials site.

One problem lies in the difficulty in explaining the case against S3 without a descent into more ickiness than the average adult TV audience can stand without reaching for the remote. (The Supreme Court opinions in Stenberg - which raised substantially the same constitutional questions as S3 - amply bear out the point.)

The risk/reward balance may well favour pro-abortion campaign staying away from public discussion of S3: better stick with the abstract right to choose and threat to Roe rather than expose the target audience to the realities needed to explain the arguments on S3, for the chance of winning a few of them over on the basis of opposition to S3.


Documentation in the S 3 cases in progress is available (with some large gaps apparent!):

The S3 Conference report (108-288) is not perhaps as helpful as it might be. (There will be other Congressional committee reports that may fill in some gaps, I suspect.) In the Findings section, play is made of two features of the Stenberg case:
  1. the favourable findings of fact of the District Judge, to which the higher courts gave deference, have (it says) been superseded by new evidence; and

  2. in litigation on S 3, the courts will give deference to the findings of Congress.

However, the fact that TROs have been forthcoming from all three District Judges is some indication that S3 is heading for the knacker's - because that means the plaintiffs have already persuaded them that they are substantially likely to win on the merits.


Hillary's race charge against Bush a bum rap

Doing kow-tow to the various grievance-groups is a cost of doing business for Dem pols; and, after an evening rimming the NAACP, Hillary Clinton treated herself to a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down - or take the taste away (AP April 26):
Clinton accused the Bush administration in her remarks of "walking away" from the goals and promises that the Supreme Court decision created.

Now, you'll seldom find a good word about Bush round here, but I try to speak as I find. And here, Hill is way off.

Bush has proved to be a far better friend to affirmative action, and its attendant apartheid-style race classification, than ever the NAACP could have hoped: reading the Theodore Olsen government briefs in the Michigan University cases Grutter and Gratz, one felt like Jeffrey Wigand learning that 60 Minutes weren't going with the show on Brown & Williamson. (Or would have, had (as I remember) the treason not been leaked in advance.)

Not so much an uncertain trumpet as a wheezy mouth-organ. And Injustice O'Connor did the rest.

A once-in-a-generation opportunity down the Swanee. As it were.

Bush was no doubt preoccupied at the time with invading Iraq ASAP. But the upshot was - we got our second black president...


What was Bush doing on April 22 1971?

No set-up, merely curiosity.

Kerry on that date was giving his famous - notorious? - testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (kindly - or not so kindly - reproduced by NRO).

A cursory search narrows Bush's whereabouts (MoJo February 8) to this:
Spring 1971:
Bush is hired by a Texas agricultural importer. He uses a National Guard F-102 to shuttle tropical plants from Florida.

Actual journalism required, I fear: out of my league...

(There doesn't seem to be a day-by-day timeline of Bush's National Guard 'service' arising from the hoo-ha of a month or two back. In any case, I gather that the allegations relate to 1972 and later [1].)

  1. The Bush military service documentation as available online.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

US schools history teaching on the Three Wise Monkeys principle

The impeccably liberal LA Times carries an excellent, if depressing, piece against interest (April 23) on the sanitised version of US history that is de rigueur these days in American schools.

A cursory glance round here will confirm my infatuation with the subject. I mentioned on March 1 a study which found US history textbooks almost universally depressing, where not factually inaccurate - mostly in the cause of minimising the possible offence to the grievance-minded.

The Times piece, by NYU history/ed prof Jonathan Zimmerman, starts with the guy telling his class about the 1963 March on Washington, and being asked about Martin Luther King's adultery, J Edgar Hoover's bugging hotel rooms, etc. What sounds like a highly satisfactory classroom discussion took place.
The next day, I received a call from an irate African American parent. "My daughter's feeling very upset," the parent said. "You've taken away her hero, her role model." Several other black parents called the principal, who summoned me to his office for a stern warning: Stick to the textbook, or else.

It's defensive school administration, as so often noted here.

The piece blames the Brown case - which dragged in the damage to self-esteem inherent in segregated education to justify ruling that such segregation was per se unequal.

With self-esteem raised to be a totem, by and by, every grievance-group had to have its plaster saints: cheap, worthless and bearing no relation to reality.

Whereas, of course, the interest of history to most students will lie almost entirely in the disreputable, if not downright evil, men and deeds that crowd its pages.

We rightly castigate politicians and the media for distortions and manipulations of fact: misleading the young in schools in surely as reprehensible, if not more so. Apart from being boring, the ultimate teen sin.

(Would, for example, that archetypal Bad Nigger Jack Johnson - lately namechecked in relation to the Seaborn Roddenbery (not Roddenberry) miscegenation amendment (March 9) - be allowed to be discussed in class, for all his considerable historical significance? Joe Louis [1] would be much safer...)

[Link via Joanne Jacobs, font of ed-lunacy.]

  1. According to this, Louis also shtupped white women, but strictly on the QT:
    Though married four times, including twice to his first wife, he discreetly enjoyed the company of both African-American and white women, including Lena Horne, Sonja Henie and Lana Turner.
    Also a paper Joe Louis and the Construction of a Black American Hero, 1935-1945 by Lauren Sklaroff of UVa.


Infinity appeals Stern fine

'Sonny Boy' Powell's post-Jackson projectile diarrhoea is fertilising the unprecedented growth of spines amongst one or two of the nation's broadcasters.

Bloomberg (April 23) reports that Infinity is appealing the NAL imposing a $27,500 fine in relation to a 2001 Stern broadcast on WKRK Detroit [1].

This follows the petition to the FCC from, amongst others, Infinity's parent Viacom, to reconsider its regime of broadcast censorship (April 21).

Moving from cost of business to put out of business in the level of fines - the FCC anticipating possible new legislation in the Clear Channel NAL of April 8 - has evidently helped to galvanise some faint hearts.

Quite on what grounds the WKRK NAL is being challenged, I'm not sure. A broad challenge on the constitutionality of 18 USC 1464 (in relation to indecency and profanity) is certainly needed; but any challenge is better than none - taking a narrow point on WKRK would not, I suspect, estop Infinity from taking a broad point on some other NAL, or in some form of collateral litigation (whatever that might be).

Meanwhile, in Congress, the Senate version of the Comstock Bill, S 2056, having been reported out [2] and placed on the Senate calendar on April 5, shows no sign I have seen of coming to the floor.

From the Supreme Court, on the related matter of Ashcroft v ACLU - the net smut case - we are due a decision which could - if it goes the right way - hole the good ship USS Comstock below the waterline. According to SCOTUS Blog on Friday, opinions are expected next Wednesday. No idea how likely the ACLU case is to be amongst them.

  1. There is apparently a 64 page filing: I can find it nowhere online.

  2. Report 108-253.


Also of interest, the intervention with the FCC of lawyer Carl Person in support of Stern. There is paperwork.


US ignorance on Iraq: an even worse problem for news

A handy poll (PDF) on US public understanding of Iraq-related facts just issued place in context the Jack Kelley affair, anonymous sources and other controversies in journalism earnestly discussed here and in many other places besides.

The numbers themselves (on Saddam-Al Qaida links and on WMD) are no surprise; but having them wrapped in a bow prompts wider questions. Not only on the efficacy of journalism to get across basic facts on vital national issues. But also on the effect of public ignorance on government.

(The issue of the MMR vaccine in the UK springs to mind on the latter point.)

I've pointed out before (December 10 2003) that around half of Americans believe in Creationism and a JFK assassination conspiracy (not necessarily the same half!) - and the presence of so many looney-tunes hasn't utterly snafu'd the country. A tribute to the Founding Fathers' deadlock default in the Constitution?


Rumours of the demise of Golden State casino Indians exaggerated...

A Slate piece from last November 2003, run under the dek How the recall election broke the back of California's Indian tribes, proved pure druther.

The white man's self-imposed Trail of Tears continues, only more so. An LA Weekly article details the current state of the humiliating farce of Indian gambling [1]: whilst Governor Schwarzenegger struggles to get the Indians to disgorge some of their gambling wampum, initiatives are planned for November for large increases in California gaming, Indian and other.

One gets the strong impression that of a situation which human hand is incapable of bringing under control. The electorate, it seems, don't mind in the least being daily sodomised with a totem pole.

So why should Arnold, or the rest of us, bother?

  1. Which I've gone into several times, most particularly on October 16 2003, with loadsa links.


Whatever happened to pro-choice?

Once, even the poster-boy for conservatism, Ronald Reagan, was a pro-abortion pioneer [1]. Now, pro-choice seems to be propelled by something resembling Joementum.

The anti-abortion forces seem to be winning on all fronts: in the 108th Congress alone, with S3 (partial birth abortion) and HR 1997 (fetus murder, etc) [2]. A death by a thousand cuts strategy that is, it seems, in tune with public opinion.

A Gallup piece [3], coinciding with the big Washington demo, shows opinion split down the middle on the headline alternative (pro-choice v pro-life splits 48:45); but with many pro-choicers actually in favour of restrictive laws (only 40% favour abortion under all or most circumstances).

Those wanting stricter laws (37%) are almost double the number of those wanting less strict laws (20%). But the issue's salience is low, and Bush's anti-abortion stance helps him almost as much as it hurts him with the voters.

The demo preview pieces in the press seem to confirm that the pro-abortion cause has to a large extent been undermined. The New York Times piece looks back nostalgically to the 1992 demo at the time of the Planned Parenthood v Casey case in the Supreme Court, where Roe v Wade squeaked a pass.

The piece says the next chance for the balance of momentum to shift will be when a new Supreme is required. The thousand cuts strategy would counsel a re-elected Bush to nominate a pro-Roe-with-strings justice; but would the fire-eaters be prepared to settle?

A WaPo piece picks up the milkiness of some pro-abortion opinion. One activist says:
I was talking to a lot of groups who were incredibly feminist, who would say things like, 'I don't feel comfortable with late-term abortion,' or 'I don't believe in using abortion as birth control.' When a national spokeswoman says, 'It's just a woman's right to choose,' she's not acknowledging the questions such women have.'

The piece quotes
an abortion counselor in San Francisco, says she and many of her friends don't even like being labeled "pro-choice."

"It puts us in a box that is hard to get out of," she says.

The old warhorse, Kate Michelman, is evidently not a fan of the kinder, gentler approach:
When the young start talking about multiple health issues, she tells them that's politically risky because "when it gets into tactics and how you win a battle, you have to focus your message."

It's something of a case study. The incremental approach has clearly succeeded for the anti-abortion lobby, playing offense against the Roe principle. But would going for the biggest possible tent work for pro-choice?

Would it help in a Supreme Court fight to have previously garnered weak pro-choicers to a watered-down platform? Or would such a fight start with a fresh deck of cards?

  1. Signing the Therapeutic Abortion Act in 1967: piece of October 9 2003.

  2. Both of which figured here first on November 21 2003 - and several times thereafter.

  3. Very short shelf-life: get it while it's hot!


William Saletan of Slate says that pro-choice balked a reversal of Roe in the late 80s by a moderate line of keeping government out of family life. And counsels the sort of broader appeal that Michelman worries about.

Other march pieces here, here and here. And Chapter 1 (PDF) of Saletan's book on abortion politics.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Air America: what's the game on Franken's show?

To judge from the banner at the top of the Franken blog, Al Franken's sidekick Katherine Lanpher is there somewhat in the capacity of nurse (I'm thinking of Monk - though Lanpher has a Madam Librarian severe looking-over-the-glasses look quite unlike Monk's minder).

Whereas, in what I've heard recently, Franken pretty much acts as if she's not in the studio. Seldom lets her get a word in in discussions with guests. Running into an ad break, she pointedly announces that Al will be talking to the next guest; and Franken picks her up, saying they both will.

And, in Friday's show, talking to Joe Conason, one embarrassing passage where, after a Tacet of a length experienced on by the players of obscure percussion instruments, Lanpher tries to intervene, but is ignored by both Franken and Conason.

What's the deal here? Is the mutual loathing genuine or fake?

Some years ago in the UK, a DJ called Chris Evans ran a zoo format show in which he acted as an arsehole towards his crew (think the Ricky Gervais character in The Office). I rather assumed that this was all an act. But a court case revealed that it was, indeed, close to reality.

Various scenarios spring to mind: Franken genuinely loathes Lanpher and is trying to ease her out; Lanpher has another offer and Franken is helping Lanpher to get out of her contract under the guise of constructive dismissal; the station wants to use her in another slot, and the aggro is mean to provide a pretext for a move. And others, no doubt.

For background on Lanpher, one has an effusive 2000 profile - by which time, she was a couple of years into her Minnesota Public Radio gig presenting Midmorning [1] (and correspondence); for a taste of undiluted Lanpher, a 2002 piece under the hed (emphasis hers) Are talk shows journalism? Let's make sure ours are; and details of an incident last year when she was arrested for drunk driving (the mug-shot, reproduced, is Hugh Grant-unfortunate) - she was apparently subsequently given a suspended six month jail sentence plus 40 hours of community service.

Interesting to see how it plays out - for a little while. It's liable to get old PDQ.

Meanwhile, Franken seems to be getting the hang of the medium: he - and a fair roster of guests - manage to hold my attention for a fair time at a stretch. (Of course, his inexperience is put in context by the amateur-hour performance on the technical front. On one show - Garofalo's, I think - they were for a time apparently broadcasting both the real-time and the 7 second delay feeds on the WLIB New York frequency.)

  1. The show runs from 9-11, just after Morning Edition.


In a piece in the St Paul Pioneer Press of January 21, reporting Lanpher's departure within a fortnight from her MPR gig, she's quoted as saying
If what you're asking is, 'Am I an equal partner?'- he's Al Franken. He's the Big Kahuna. I understand that, and it doesn't concern me.

Big Kahuna?

MORE (April 28)

A feature (April 21) in Rolling Stone on the Franken show - pre-launch rehearsals, bio stuff on Franken (almost none on Lanpher, natch) and so forth.


After prison rape, Lockyer winks at goon violence

It's election year, of course, and, by and by, those swing voters in swing states will be sniffing the cesspools that are the two main parties and deciding whether to plunge in one or other of them, or not.

In the Democratic pool, there are few globules of slime more noxious than California Attorney-General Bill Lockyer, who famously endorsed prison rape (ostensibly as a joke), and was subsequently handsomely rewarded for his joviality by the state's electors.

His latest contribution to criminal justice is a decision to let off the hook what are described as counsellors - I think that's a fancy word for goons - caught on camera administering a little jailhouse justice to two wards at the N.A. Chaderjian Youth Correctional Facility in Stockton (San Francisco Chronicle April 24). No fewer than six goons had themselves a party; but, it seems,
both local prosecutors and now Lockyer have found too many problems with the case to bring charges, noting that the wards appear to have started the fight and received minimal injuries.

the department could still submit the case to the U.S. attorney's office.

Which would not be the first time in California that the Feds would be called in to deal with a corrections injustice flunked by the State authorities - as I mentioned on February 7, Governor Schwarzenegger called in US Eastern District Attorney McGregor Scott to investigate the Folsom Prison riot of 2002.

Apparently, the Stockton case also involved falsified reports from 'employees' about the incident.

(Give the Chronicle its due, the piece ran on A1. As I've mentioned before, the online record suggests that there has been no shortage of articles from the leading papers of the state on the abortion that has long been the California corrections system.

The California voter has no excuse for ignorance of the situation. He's not ignorant: that's the way he likes it, apparently.)

Needless to say, it's complicated. In particular, there is no uniformity amongst the Black Hats.

For instance, Bill Lockyer once tried to take down the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA) - in 1999, following (inter alia) the inertia in pursuing goons responsible for brutality at the Corcoran State Prison (my piece of February 3), he championed legislation (SB 451 of State Sen Adam Schiff) which would have given him the right to take over prosecutions from local DAs. The bill failed in the Assembly; apparently,
Lockyer quoted one Assemblyman, who had received $105,000 from the CCPOA, as saying, "I'm sorry, but I'm whoring for the CCPOA." The individual later denied the allegation.

A 1999 Salon piece also has Lockyer opposing the goons union on penal reform and hikes in prison spending.

Has there been a rapprochement between the goons union and Lockyer since SB 451 went down? His contributions statement at the Secretary of State's site does not disclose the CCPOA as amongst his contributors. But, then, he only comes up for re-election in 2006 (for which he has the small matter of $10 million in the bank already!).

If he was still the CCPOA's enemy, on Realpolitik grounds, I suppose I ought to be experiencing the warm glow of fellow-feeling. Rather than nausea.

California's voters generally appear supremely uninterested in penal matters [1]. So, one can't help feeling, if they don't bother, why should I? But, then, I don't bother - it's just fascinating to see how the jigsaw fits together. How it doesn't fit a neat TV movie story arc; the awkward exceptions and inconsistencies that reveal themselves with a bit of digging.

  1. Though not always: I mentioned Proposition 36 on April 18.

    There is a long tradition of penal reform on both sides of the Atlantic, of course. Starting with Beccaria and John and Elizabeth Fry, it's been a socially respectable outlet for the reforming impulse - for instance, Jeremy Bentham's Panopticon (a principle used in the construction of Pentonville Prison) was not exactly a piece of bleeding-heart liberalism.


Whilst the URLs are to hand: a Common Cause analysis (PDF) of the top ten contributors in California politics (unfortunately, the numbers are for the 1997-8 cycle, and the exercise has not been repeated for later cycles); a 1999 Nation piece on the Corcoran horrors; a CJCJ piece on the CCPOA in action; a December 2003 thesis on the politics of the California three strikes law.

Friday, April 23, 2004

RSS fubar again

I note that the RSS is screwed again. Having checked one or two other sites that use the same source for the gizmo that does the needful, I find that the URLs for their RSS feeds produce the same error message.

I infer, therefore, that my legendary technical incompetence is not to blame this time! Though patrons will scarcely find much comfort in the thought.

The good news: the Atom feed is working fine. (Yay, Blogger! For once.)

The bad news: Atom works in some newsreaders, but not in others. So far as I'm aware, the Betamax v VHS war between the partisans of RSS and Atom continues, I believe.

I shall try to find an alternative source for the RSS feed - the last time I looked, they were not thick on the ground.

As Edward G Robinson so eloquently put it, Mother of Mercy! Can this be the end...

(Of course, RSS readers will not see this, and will assume the Plawg has been turned off (in the Newgate sense) already. Heigh ho...)


USA Today report: any more Kelleys?

When I discussed the departure of USAT editor, Karen Jurgensen, I mentioned (April 21) that publication of the report into the affair commissioned from John Seigenthaler was imminent.

An edited version was indeed published yesterday [1], and it's no less grim on a second reading. It identifies a number of systemic failures in the News department: the reporting structure, the system of performance reviews supposedly designed to weed out under-performers, but, it seems, more gauged to produce team players.

Kelley, the star used to hobnobbing with senior executives and often on TV, exploited a system that was ripe for the treatment. Those rules that existed to maintain quality control were flouted for his benefit. A large investment - increasing by the week - of the paper's credibility was made in Kelley, who became [my view] increasingly associated with the paper's brand.

The climate of fear found to have existed, and to continue to exist, in the News department of the paper as a result of its management style and structures served to quell the many suggestions, from inside the paper and out, that Kelley's work was questionable.

And - though this is not mentioned - the sunk costs of credibility must have weighed with USAT senior executives, who were by no means all in total ignorance of the complaints being made about Kelley. If he'd managed to get away with his phoney stories for so long, why should his next story be any more liable to be rumbled? The longer Kelley was the blue-eyed boy, the greater chumps the paper's management would appear if they exposed him as a faker.

How far did the information go up the food chain at USAT? The report mentions that
A former publisher, worrying that a Kelley story was flawed, took the time to have a conversation with a high-ranking Intelligence official who confirmed its accuracy. He never entertained any serious suspicions that Kelley was a fraud. The fact that Kelley had talent and had done some good work on some stories no doubt helped buttress the confidence top news executives wrongly placed in him.

But, elsewhere in the report, complaints are stymied by middle managers, as for instance, in one quote:
When I said I was going to tell a senior editor I didn't believe Jack, I was told: 'You don't want to go there.'

In any organisation, the priorities of senior management tend to get diffused throughout that organisation. Perhaps the USAT structures and culture were more than usually conducive;
One News editor, explaining to a colleague why a reporter's complaint was not reported up the line, said, "My job is to think just like [my boss] so he knows I'm never second-guessing him."

I think we're meant to connect the dots: the top guys had made Kelley their champion, and would take amiss anything that might compromise his status.

There is, needless to say, plenty of comment on the use of anonymous quotes. (And I wouldn't be the first to point out the irony that the report itself is stuffed with them!) Apparently,
In 1999 the newspaper division of the Gannett Company, parent of USA TODAY, adopted a code of ethics for its newspapers, including strict policy guidelines on the use of confidential sources. USA TODAY, even as complaints about Kelley's work were swirling among staff members, opted not to adopt the code or the guidelines.

Infer away...

Which leads one to ask what the executives at Gannett [2] were doing all this while? USAT is the group's flagship, and, I suspect [3], its financial contribution is considerable. Delegation is fine and dandy, but surely Gannett would have wanted to know of rumours of the kind floating around about so important an employee as Kelley? And, given the multifarious sources of those rumours, it would be surprising if none reached Gannett senior management from other places than within USAT. From journalists in other Gannett papers, for instance - where, perhaps, the culture and structure was more conducive to the free flow of such information.

Also, might there be other Jack Kelleys within USAT - less high profile, but equally prepared not to let the facts spoil a good story - which that climate of fear mentioned earlier might have helped protect?

In the coverage of the report [4] and the subsequent resignation of Managing Editor for news, Hal Ritter, the report is faulted for not stressing the shortage of staff at USAT. And a lack of cash for overseas reporting is mentioned as a contributory factor additional to those mentioned in the report.

Howard Kurtz enjoys a couple of thousand words of Schadenfreude at the nemesis of an outrageous counter-jumper, as, for instance,-
As USA Today gradually transformed itself from a bland "McPaper" known mainly for short stories and flashy graphics...
the nation's top-selling newspaper, which the panel says has increasingly tried to compete with the New York Times and The Washington Post

Give Howie his due, though: the piece is remarkable for the fact that all the quotes he supplies come with names attached!

  1. Split into ten pages! The report on just one page.

  2. The 2003 Annual Report (PDF), for reference.

  3. Said Annual Report does not show the contribution of USAT to Gannett's results, either revenues or net income - so far as I can see.

  4. Romenesko has loadsa links here and here.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Another voice in the wilderness on anonymous sources

The competition for the absurdest anonymous sourcing is fierce; my entry is none other than the current President Bush - who impersonated Deep Throat for the benefit of selected representatives of the media a few weeks ago (my piece of March 3).

It's a case cited in a piece in LA Weekly by David Ehrenstein rounding up some of the more noxious examples of the practice (a crowed field indeed!).

He quotes the defeatist Okrent:
I hate unattributed sources and think they’re absolutely necessary to journalism.

Perhaps, to the abortion which is journalism as practiced by the likes of his New York Times today.

Okrent goes on with as sleazy a formulation as you will find this side of Alastair Campbell [1]:
Let’s say there are 100 unattributed sources and 99 of them are spinners or people who are using the press, and the 100th is offering the Pentagon Papers.

Ehrenstein points out that the source of the Papers, Daniel Ellsberg, wasn't anonymous; and that revelations from anonymice of equivalent quality to the Papers have been thin on the ground.

When a crack whore opens her legs, she is at least fairly likely to end up with something to feed her addiction. Today's media is permanently on its back servicing the various branches of government, and all it gets for its trouble is fucked.

  1. He's not asserting the truth of either element in his comparison: in form, it's a mere supposition. He's certainly providing no evidence. Yet the use of exact numbers seems to have a subconscious validating effect in the mind. Like the use in TV commercials of the 1960s of men in white coats: these chaps posed as scientists or doctors to give the viewer a spurious sense of objective third party endorsement of the maker's claims about the product.

    The mesmeric quality of the statistics relating to the probative value of DNA evidence (so many billion to one against fingering the wrong man) has been recognised by the courts both in the UK and the US, I believe.


Moeller's WMD study breaks Newsday, at least

Maryland U's Susan Moeller's study [1], required reading on the media handling of the WMD issue, has, so far as I can see, been pointedly ignored by the bigs to date. But at least she has now an article on the work in Newsday.Moeller's study also gets a write-up in the Maryland student rag. Included is a not-bad snap of Moeller in full flow: rather intense, bluestockingly attractive, apparently short of a comb.
  1. Last mentioned here on April 7.


FCC facing multi-front war with broadcasters, apparently

Kibitzers must naturally be wary of taking appearances at face value. Examples abound of situations where it stands to reason that crisis is round the corner, but the signs are misleading. Thus, the extraordinary budget deficits of Belgium and Italy during the 1990s, and the Turkish rate of inflation. Or the revolving door governments of post-war Italy.

But the FCC does seem to have its hands full right now. And not only with the issues of censorship and media concentration, already discussed here at some length.

At the NAB convention, President Edward Fritts raised the question of cable carrying digital broadcasts. The must carry requirements on cable to carry broadcast output have a thirty year history; the available of capacity-sapping high-definition digital TV exacerbates the problem. The cable companies down-convert or down-rez the signal, and the broadcasters want the FCC to stop them.

And Chairman Powell was threatening the industry that Congress might confiscate its analog bandwidth to raise cash, and urging the FCC's own proposal.

(The practical problem identified in the UK is the fact that most households will have more than one TV (many will have several), and viewers will be reluctant to junk large numbers of perfectly serviceable sets to permit a bandwidth bonanza for the government.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Judith Miller debunking booked from TNR scribe: another scapegoat?

Margaret Thatcher famously called her Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, unassailable in his then post. He soon afterwards ceased to be Chancellor.

The New York Times senior management circled the wagons around Miller and her WMD stuff [1]; now, according to the New York Observer's Tom Scocca, Franklin Foer has been hired by New York magazine to anatomise Miller.

More watchblog lunacy to be feared, perhaps: as if Miller's articles were her freeholds, and in no way the responsibility of Times editors. (A modified version of that theory actually applies to Times op-eds, as previously discussed here several times.)

Proof of the pudding...

  1. Executive editor Bill Keller (March 28) and publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr (March 22) noted here.


More USG re-writing of digital history: Rumsfeld interview to Woodward airbrushed

The last time we looked at such an effort by USG (March 19), it was a text that was put online, and then removed.

Here (WaPo April 21), the transcripts of a couple of interviews were placed on the DOD site, but minus a controversial passage. In Plan of Attack, Woodward has
Rumsfeld...telling Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington, in January 2003 that he could "take that to the bank" that the invasion would happen.

Larry DiRita, Rummy's Scott McClellan, said there was an honest disagreement on what was said.


USA Today editor takes the fall - the rest carry on regardless?

A bunch of pieces [1] at Romenesko on the demise of Karen Jurgensen.

The upshot seems to be that:
  1. though the Jack Kelley affair blew up on her watch, his misfeasance had been going on long before she took up the job; and

  2. USAT management are virtually saying in terms that they are looking for her departure to draw a line, and allow - in Tony Blair's phrase - everyone to move on.

Now, perhaps a symbolic blood-letting is necessary - seems daft to me, but I am open to persuasion as to the merits. But, in an organisation the size of USAT, Jurgensen's actual - as opposed to vicarious - responsibility for Kelley's misdeeds must surely be limited. It is the entire editorial system that one strongly suspects was at fault (discussed, for example in my March 23 piece), from the humblest copy-editor right up the chain.

The Seigenthaler report on the Kelley affair has been delivered to USAT management and, according to the LA Times piece, a public statement on the report is expected this week. That will hopefully give us a rather clearer idea of just how far the intention is to return to business as usual once the storm has subsided.

(Ear protector advisory: a whole bunch of axes liable to be being ground...)

  1. NY Times piece and LA Times piece - to pre-empt pay-wall.


Hollywood posse saddles up for First Amendment shootout with FCC

Viacom, together with an eclectic band of organisations and individuals, have petitioned the FCC to reconsider its new regime of indecency and profanity regulation.

The April 19 petition was written by First Amendment expert, Robert Corn-Revere - who, before a House subcommittee, cast a deluge of doubt on the constitutionality of 18 USC 1464, and the whole machinery for FCC censorship of indecency and profanity (piece of March 19).

From an initial squint, the petition is more specifically concerned with the Golden Globes Bono fuck decision. But it seems hard to think that this is anything less than a letter before action. (It is hardly conceivable that the FCC will grant the petition!)

I'm far from clear as to the procedure: the petition refers to 47 USC 405 - which makes the availability of judicial review for non-parties against an FCC ruling conditional on their having filed a timely petition against the ruling.

Judicial review is distinct from an appeal against the decision to the DC Circuit Court which is only available to parties and others listed in 47 USC 402(b).

(Viacom - or rather its subsidiary, Infinity - could have appealed against one of the March 18 decisions made against it (March 19). Perhaps that would not make as clean a case to make the First Amendment challenge.)

Presumably, the requirements of Article III in relation, for instance, to standing would have to be satisfied. Some of the petitioners - Penn and Teller? - might have more difficulty than others, perhaps.

Meanwhile, 'Sonny Boy' Powell has been shmoozing the NAB, in an interview - can you say Karen Ryan? - with Sam Donaldson.

He didn't address the petition, but did point out that
There's been more push from the Democratic side than the Republican side, although they've pushed it too.

Chance of directing liberal outrage at Mrs McCarthy, Nancy Pelosi, and her Dem Comstock cronies? Think Nader taking the oath next January 20...


Kerry takes the line of least resistance with the Jewish lobby

The sheikhs of Dearborn could surely have expected no better. But the so-called liberal John Kerry, who weasels with the best of them, was brutally frank on Meet the Press (April 18) when it came to the Bush-Sharon Pact:
MR. RUSSERT: On Thursday, President Bush broke with the tradition and policy of six predecessors when he said that Israel can keep part of the land seized in the 1967 Middle East War and asserted the Palestinian refugees cannot go back to their particular homes. Do you support President Bush?


MR. RUSSERT: Completely?


Now, it's simply not done for politicians in political interviews to give plain Yes or No answers. It's rather a sign of extreme nervousness - or abject surrender.

Kerry is down in Florida looking for Jewmentum with Lieberman in tow. He's castigating Bush for working both sides of the street by hammering the Saudi oil deal alleged in the Woodward book (WaPo April 20).

But Kerry's in-principle getting with the (Sharon) program is scarcely new: and, last month, he was polling at 54% amongst Arabs, with Bush at 30% (the 2000 general broke 45:38 to Bush) [1].

Also notable - and brought out on Meet the Press - was the Kerry kow-tow on a proposal (Knight Ridder March 8) to nominate, once in office, Jimmy Carter or James Baker as Middle East envoy.

What was he thinking [2 ]? So far as I'm aware, Carter is no Judaeophile; and Baker is the guy credited with the aphorism to guide all GOP administrations, except, possibly, the present one:
Fuck the Jews, they never vote for us anyway

The KR piece is posited on the assumption that Kerry is a flip-flopper on the Middle East: I'm guessing that, with his astoundingly unequivocal endorsement of the Sharon plan for Gaza, he's made his bed and will now proceed to lie on it.

And who are the Michigan towelheads going to run to?

  1. Pre-primary February Village Voice piece on Michigan's Arabs says support was tending towards Kerry - the participation of Arab Bill Shaheen in the Kerry campaign is mentioned as a factor. Presumably, the necessity of Kerry's rimming the Jewish lobby was even then factored into Arab calculations.

  2. Some pretty reckless kite-flying, if that's what it was!


A Zogby poll (PDF) from February 2004 on the Arab vote in battleground states.

Michigan Arabs broke 40:25 for Kerry, with Nader, at 26%, pushing Bush into third!

Of the states surveyed (MI, FL, OH, PA), all give Kerry clear support, except Ohio, whose Arabs break decisively for Bush: the average for four states (without Nader) is 54:30 [1]; in Ohio, it's 34:50.

And next door Pennsylvania shows the biggest majority for Kerry, 73:20! As so often with such surveys, the stand-out fact is studiously skirted round.

I can offer no explanation, certainly.

  1. We're talking about the poll mentioned earlier, evidently.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The WaPo PDB report conundrum- the point the ombud missed

The finely chiselled exposé died in the crash yesterday. However...

Cutting to the chase: the top WaPo news story (April 11) on the August 6 PDB - by top bananas Dana Milbank and Walter Pincus - was seriously flawed as a work of journalism; and ombud Michael Getler, prompted by a bunch of reader complaints, was all over it at the weekend (April 18).

Now, the fault with bad material in a news outlet is always that of the editors. How many people actually read the Milbank and Pincus piece? No substitute for alert and knowledgeable eyes on the page.

One point, however, is left only partly digested. The lede - an immediate lede, betokening a hard news story - is seriously deficient:
President Bush was warned a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the FBI had information that terrorists might be preparing for a hijacking in the United States and might be targeting a building in Lower Manhattan.

The information was included in a written Aug. 6, 2001, briefing to Bush...

The text of the PDB (the second graf of Milbank-Pincus indicates that the lede is referring to the PDB itself) mentions (second page) buildings and New York as the location.

The Milbank and Pincus piece later on refers to the intelligence to which the statement refers: a single incident in relation to the Federal Court House in Foley Square.

Now, it's not established (so far as I know) one way or the other that the briefer accompanying the August 6 PDB told Bush that the PDB reference to buildings in New York was based on the Foley Square incident alone.

But, in the PDB itself, there's no support for the statement in Milbank and Pincus' lede.

Now, WaPo publishes tens of thousands of pieces each year. Milbank-Pincus must have been in the top 100 for 2004; you'd therefore expect it to have been edited to the nth degree.

The question unanswered is, How did Lower Manhattan get into the lede? On the face of it, as a reporting job, it's easy-peasy: just précis the text. The fact that Milbank-Pincus had Foley Square in their minds surely wouldn't have confused them - both of them - enough to make such a gaffe, surely?

Which implies that their copy was changed by some over-eager copy-editor. And wasn't checked by his slot - or anyone higher up the editorial hierarchy.

I'm curious to know how many people - and at what level - actually read the Milbank-Pincus piece before publication. Presumably, most, if not all, of those had read the PDB before reading the piece: how come none of them spotted the fubar?


Jewish conspiracy at work in Brattleboro?

The papers cited here are overwhelmingly the usual suspects. So a name like the Brattleboro Reformer sticks in the memory.

The rag appeared here first (October 22 2003) in recognition of the principled stand of editor Kathryn Casa in publishing a letter alleging excessive Jewish influence over the town's affairs.

(The point was not the truth of the allegations, but the entitlement of the paper to give space to them.)

Now, the Rutland Herald reports (April 20), Casa is out.
Several sources familiar with the situation said Casa was given an hour to clean out her desk before being escorted out of the building.

The Herald story suggests that the grounds may have included sympathy for unionisation and a willingness to consider both sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

One to follow, I think.


Rules of the journalistic game: the wait for the book

After a slight technical snafu, I'm back...

Scanning the Bob Woodward/Larry King chat, we get a passage nearly half way down on a conversation (interview?) Woodward had with Bush five months ago, on the Where's my weapons? question. At the end of which, Woodward says
And he finally -- I said, You know, why not just say it? And then he said, OK, true, true, true. And then he was worried I was going to run down to "The Washington Post" and write a story that would say, President says no weapons found. I told him I would not, that it would be in the context of the book. You know, it's a problem with this war...

Bush had agreed to talk for the book, and Woodward respected the agreement.

Now, the general perception that journalists tend to foster is of a Big Bad World trying to keep all sorts of information secret, and the brave, gallant journo going forth to prise the information out of them. They may grant anonymity to sources; but, however, the journo wants the information to get out.

And here we have a hack holding the good stuff back until most commercially advantageous.

In developing a model of journalistic practice, clearly this temporal dimension should not be overlooked. News is, by its very nature, time-critical. Its value affected not only by the length of time before action and report, but also by the other stories with which it is competing for space. Woe betide the pol whose minor scandal breaks on a slow news day!

Every political journalistic must hope to come across a story worthy of a book. And that is bound to affect the stuff produced day by day.

(Presumably Woodward was talking to Bush on his own time; otherwise the Post might be aggrieved not to have been given the scoop.)

In any case, the joke is on the suckers who read the Post and assume they are getting to know everything that Post hacks know.

It ain't necessarily so.

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