The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes
Monday, January 31, 2005
Young America prefers totalitarianism
Some of it.
How else to explain a survey of high school students which
finds that 36% believe newspapers should get “government approval” of stories before publishing; 51% say they should be able to publish freely; 13% have no opinion.
(What's the preferred explanation? Mental retardation? Pisspoor education? Brain-numbing by MTV? There is no good here.)
Of course, one thirsts for comparisons - with past generations, with peers from other countries. Before yelling American conformism - I was tempted! - one would like to see the returns from, say, German students.
Rich R Danu not a joke
Getler duly tips the hat to Wemple's big exposé.
Ha, ha, very funny.
The photo caption of the Inaugural 'demonstrator' -
Outside the Freedom Ball at Union Station, Rich R. Danu of Detroit waves his wallet at protester Antonia Clark of New York, left, telling her, 'I'd like to thank George Bush for his tax cuts.'- no longer seems extant online.
Clearly, no one in the editing process read with attention the words quoted.
And that's no joke.
Like Bush, athletes are bypassing The Filter
Hell, it's doing what works!
The Metro phenomenon - which is causing the Gray Lady so much grief at the moment (January 17) - is one clear sign of it: young people generally just don't buy regular newspapers.
You'd expect to find that sentiment in an average class of college students. But not a class of journalism students!
So Laura Berman at the Detroit News is bound to have a little fun over this :
The scene: A college classroom at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Dearborn? I've never set foot in the state, but my hunch is that Dearborn is not the premier campus of UMich (which is Ann Arbor, from memory). Perhaps it does not attract the crème de la crème. Perhaps it is even more addicted to affirmative action  than the more prestigious sites
Though it's hard to see how AA resulted in this:
"My generation is very visually oriented," explains Ryan Schreiber, a U-M Dearborn junior from Dearborn who -- like most in the class -- is majoring in journalism but doesn't read much of it."My generation grew up watching MTV. We are used to short spurts of words, lots of images...We're used to immediate gratification."
Could he possibly have been hitting on Berman?
The distaff side is no more sympathetic to the written word:
After asking how many read a newspaper regularly -- four or five out of 35 said they did -- [an instructor in a J-class] required them to bring a newspaper to class twice a week. "The students don't like it," says Laura Hipshire, one of the journalism students.
Hipshire? Deleted scene from an Austin Powers movie...
Berman is a columnist, but I'm assuming she's not making all this up. Has she been spoofed by a bunch of smartass student looking to take down the big paper in town?
If I were Berman's editor, I'd be doing some checking. (Actually, I'd probably have done some checking before I ran the piece.)
Yid-baiting in British politics?
Despite the druthers of Likudniks and their fellow-travellers, anti-semitism as political fuel has, so far as I'm aware, next to zero calorific value in the UK right now.
The leader of the Tory opposition, Michael Howard, happens to be a Jew. But, I suspect, most UK voters do not realise it. He makes little or nothing of it: why should they?
Tony Blair and his Merry Men go for a little faux-naif jokery with a poster featuring Howard as Fagin.
They deny it ever crossed their mind that anyone would think they were attacking Howard as a Jew. According to BBC radio (not reflected in online material yet) Blair's Labour machine has decided not to use the poster after all.
Classic technique. Which makes me wonder, perhaps Labour has focus-grouped and found a genuine strain of anti-semitism amongst key demos. Evidence?
Sunday, January 30, 2005
The New York Times and the Bay of Pigs
While I have the Hallin out (piece earlier), I've refreshed my memory with his account (p22ff) of the incident involving a piece by Tad Szulc on preparations being made for the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Visiting Florida in April 1961, Szulc had found the invasion was an open secret amongst Cuban exiles. He wrote a piece which was destined for the front page. Hallin quotes Harrison Salisbury's description of the bull pen of news editors Theodore Bernstein and Lewis Jordan laying out the page, with Szulc's piece accorded the honour of a Column 8 berth (right-hand lede) with a four-column hed.
However, Hallin goes on,
Orville Dryfoos, the publisher, had meanwhile been on the phone to James Reston, the Washington bureau chief. He and Reston had agreed, he told [managing editor Turner] Catledge, that the story should at least be toned down, lest the Times be "blamed for tipping off Castro." All references to the imminence of the invasion and the involvement of the CIA were excised, the size of the head was reduced from four columns to one, and the story was bumped from the right-hand lead to column four.
This duly went down like a ham sandwich at a barmitzvah over in the newsroom.
But did Dryfoos  have his arm twisted? Hallin cites Kennedy's speech of April 27 1961 to the American Newspaper Publishers Association which is a menacing call to conformity:
On many earlier occasions, I have said--and your newspapers have constantly said--that these are times that appeal to every citizen's sense of sacrifice and self-discipline. They call out to every citizen to weigh his rights and comforts against his obligations to the common good. I cannot now believe that those citizens who serve in the newspaper business consider themselves exempt from that appeal.
A horse's head worthy of his bosom buddy Sam Giancana, I'd say!
But the suggestion is that Kennedy, having been tipped off by someone at the Times that a bombshell story on Cuba was imminent, phoned Dryfoos to get him to desist.
There's no sign of the JFK call in Hallin's book; and, apart from the piece linked, nothing online for "orville dryfoos" "tad szulc". I wonder whether the story comes from Seymour Hersh's The Dark Side of Camelot whose reliability has come into question.
Tonkin Gulf Incidents: Le Monde had what the Times and the Post had not
The history of the Gulf of Tonkin Incidents is to be treasured for all sorts of reasons, not least their narrow compass which enabled Edwin Moise pretty much to wrap the whole business in his book (oft mentioned here).
For one, there's the demonstration of pure stenography on behalf of America's top papers. Pravda, Granma or The People's Daily could not have done a better job for their regimes .
Having Daniel Hallin's Uncensored War to hand once more, I find (p20) an excellent compare and contrast with the Le Monde article of August 8 1964 , under hed Les circonstances du second combat naval demeurent imprécises:
On the second incident Le Monde provides a striking contrast to the U.S. press. "Now that the first armed clashes and the threats have passed," the paper reported on August 8, "it is time to explain the...circumstances in which the 'incidents' in the Gulf of Tonkin took place. As our correspondent in Washington has reported, the American 'dossier' contains serious gaps. Even if Hanoi and Peking need to be taken with a grain of salt in their presentation of the facts, it is nevertheless useful to consider their claims, at least to reconsider the facts as they can be known." The article went on to review the public statements of Washington, Peking and Hanoi (Hanoi had acknowledged the first attack on the Maddox, but had called the second a "fabrication"), concluded that the evidence was fragmentary, and speculated that the incident might have been the product of tension and confusion. Neither the Times nor the Post made any such analysis of the record. There was even, despite the administration's fairly tight control of information about policy debates, a good deal on the public record that suggested that a change in U.S. policy toward North Vietnam was in the offing, for the administration had at times been using the press to warn North Vietnam of the fact.
In his previous paragraph, Hallin says
There was, in fact, a great deal of information available which contradicted the official account: it simply wasn't used. The day before the first incident, Hanoi had protested the attacks on its territory by Laotian aircraft and South Vietnamese gunboats. It was generally known, moreover, and had been reported in the Times and elsewhere in the press, that "covert" operations against North Vietnam, carried out by South Vietnamese forces with U.S. support and direction had been going on for some time. But neither the Times nor the Washington Post mentioned them at all, either at the time of the incidents or in the weeks that followed, aside from inconspicuous sidebars on Hanoi's "allegations", and a passing reference in James Reston's column.
Was this the result of Graham and Sulzberger or their subordinates having received the infamous Johnson treatment? Graham certainly figures on LBJ's telephone tapes - but I doubt it. Stenography, then as now, came instinctively, was the default method. Objectivity included signing up to the Cold War ideological consensus.
And note the way in which information (such as the ongoing escalation via the OPLAN 34A raids ) may be in the public domain, but still not be operative.
The classic recent example was the August 6 PDB Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US (April 30 and May 24 2004), the name of which caused such a stir when it came out in Condi Rice's testimony to the 9/11 Commission but had previously appeared on the front page of the Post!
Facts reported by the media just seem to vanish after a time, as in Mission Impossible: "this tape will self destruct in ten seconds." Even though the original articles are still available online and in dead-tree form, they just don't count - unless in some way giving the kiss of life, by being referred to some public official or body.
On coverage of escalation in the Times, Moise cites two pieces which ran on page 1:
He also mentions Des commandos sud-vietnamiennes entrâinées par les Américains opèrent depuis longtemps au Tonkin in Le Monde of August 7.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Is advertising affecting content at Air America?
There is far too much grunt work involved in checking this out . So just call it a hypothesis.
Up to the election and - so far as I can recall - beyond, Janeane Garofalo and her sidekick were slamming the New York Times. I remember particular hate campaigns (with stunts) aimed at Jodi Wilgoren and Adam Nagourney. More or less every night, there was at least one anti-Times rant.
This year, not so much, in what I've heard. And, I notice, the station has been running ads for the Times, voiced by none other than Air America Radio newsguy Bill Crowley.
Has the Times suddenly 'reformed'? Did a memo come round from AAR bosses saying to lay off? Or is it a figment of my imagination.
Whilst on the subject: a day or two ago, Garofalo, ranting about the homo-marriage amendment and the folks who support it, compared this sorry piece of symbolism to the Nazi death camps. (This was the day of the Auschwitz liberation 60th anniversary commemorations.)
And just now was complaining about Ted Koppel comparing the Iraq war to World War 2 in confronting opponents of the former in a Nightline town-meeting show.
Justification (if any) for early claims for the superior quality of the intellectual honesty of liberal talk radio seem to have gone the way of the early AAR management team.
Friday, January 28, 2005
'The Army's maxed out here': feeling the draft
The quote in a Rolling Stone piece on the likelihood of a draft from
retired Gen. Merrill McPeak, who served as Air Force chief of staff under the first President Bush
I have no feel for the substance; but an Osirak II-triggered war with Iran - talk of which USG is certainly not stamping hard on - would surely set the whole cumbersome business in motion. (Blair gofer Jack Straw is in full see-no-evil mode on the matter.)
Texas Congressional District maps
I have a mild interest in the gerrymanders of the Lone Star State, a curiosity which extends to seeing what there is online in the way of district maps.
The 109th districts - incorporating the GOP gerrymander - are here - individually, all 32 of them, at around half a meg of PDF each.
The 108th, in both huge PDF and small GIF files, are here. This incorporates the court-imposed redistricting  following the 2000 census.
Of the 107th and earlier, there seems to be no sign of readily accessible detailed maps. There are the maps in the Congressional Handbook - from the GPO site, which are fine with rural districts, not much good for cities.
National Atlas has the 107th and 106th districts in the form of a layer as a shapefile. That's Here be Hippogriffs territory for me, I'm afraid.
(I suspect that more aggressive shaking of trees and working the Wayback Machine would produce the goods. My excitement level needs boosting before I start on that road!)
Thursday, January 27, 2005
The whited sepulchre of West 43rd Street
The Gray Lady delivers a stern lecture on the iniquities of government spreading its message through covertly paid mouthpieces.
The NYT Co got no administration baksheesh  for adding its ineffable patina of verisimilitude to the Iraqi WMD fabrications of Ahmed Chalabi, and is feeling sore about it. Perhaps.
A cui bono for outing Armstrong Williams
So far as I can tell - I've not looked hard - Williams' little arrangement with Ketchum saw the light of day through an FOIA request from USA Today.
Whether the rag was tipped off to look at Williams in particular, or fingered him as part of a general trawl, isn't clear to me. (I've not being paying over-much attention to the story.)
But - if only to illustrate the dangers of the cui bono method - let me consider a possible explanation
The Bush administration's general approach (as I've discussed before) is to integrate public and private in a sort of neo-corporatism, along the lines of the defence industry. The pay-off is to produce streams of private money from public activity: private money from which they (or their campaigns, PACs and the like) can get the skimmings.
Post-Williams, they can go to beneficiaries (pharma and insurance, off the top of the head) of new programmes and say, If USG does the promotion, it gets hassle from the GAO and all sorts of liberal busybodies; we need you to take care of it. At least, the covert side.
And they can be subtle about it: there's all sorts of consultancy work and speaking engagements and think-tank fellowships (for example) by which private sector payola can be laundered.
The giveaways are so enormous - the prescription drug benefit is worth billions to Big Pharma - that a few million in the sweaty palms of the likes of Williams is not much to ask in order to ensure a quiet life for everyone.
That's the hypothesis, at least.
[The total administration PR spend for the first Bush term ran to around $250 million, it seems - against $128 million for Clinton's second. Chicken feed beside that Bush deficit - $427 billion for 2005, at the last count.]
Bush, quoted by Howie Kurtz:
All our Cabinet secretaries must realize that we will not be paying, you know, commentators to advance our agenda. Our agenda ought to be able to stand on its own two feet.
With a little help from his friends, perhaps?
Obama - oh dear!
Seconds out for Round One at the Senate, and the Brown Bomber comes out tap-dancing.
In the vote on the Rice confirmation, Dems had a glorious opportunity to vote their consciences. Safe from menaces from the usual pack of slavering pit-bulls from AIPAC, the NRA, Parents Television Council, and the rest; free from the need to accommodate the interests of key donors.
One glorious free swing before the sordid bazaar of politics as usual kicked in in the 109th. Pure Capracorn. (Rice was always going to be confirmed; any votes against were always going to be purely symbolic. No harm, no foul.)
In the event, the score was 85-13, Jeffords and twelve Dems, including the full MA delegation.
No Hillary Clinton. In her speech during the debate , she sloughs off responsibility for her vote:
While many of my Democratic colleagues on the committee, including the ranking member, share my concern over her role in our Iraq policy, they think it worthwhile to give her a chance in this new role. That judgement, from Senators who had the opportunity to probe and question Dr. Rice on her qualifications, tips the balance in favor of voting for Dr. Rice's nomination to be Secretary of State, in my mind.
Barack Obama, only in the job for three weeks, kept shtum in the Chamber, but told the Sun Times
I understand the frustrations [of those] who have been here the past four years. My attitude was it was important to look forward and give her the benefit of the doubt.
The piece points out that Obama
ran as an anti-Iraq war candidate with tremendous crucial early support from the anti-war Illinois progressive political community...
That was then...
Why not take the free hit for liberal glory, though? What discussions did he have with Harry Reid and the minority leadership on the issue? Did they suggest to him he ought to lay off? Did he get a quid pro quo for some other liberal sally closer to his heart?
The Rice vote was at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Gingrich shutting down the government stunts: a vote against could not have affected the outcome, let alone the lives of any real people. A morale-boosting liberal Charge of the Light Brigade would have been purely symbolic: but so is the Federal homo-marriage amendment. Or the Confederate flag at the Columbia Statehouse. Or many things in politics.
And there were always going to be plenty of chances for Obama to prove an ability to go along...
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
AJR on Bush v press - further thoughts...
...to those earlier today.
In no particular order:
Horse-and-buggy thinking from Leon Panetta:
On the media side, "instead of always looking for the angle or the scandal or the bad news, at some point the press has to develop greater objectivity in the way they approach their stories," he says. "If they do that, I think White Houses have to respond by giving them greater access."
Clapping for Tinkerbell. (Or Trent Lott regretting that the Dixiecrats lost in 1948.)
The point that
The vast media landscape has not helped the press' cause either. If anything, it's enabled administrations to tailor and target their messages more effectively.is hardly a new one.
I seem to remember early on in Hedrick Smith's The Power Game - I've only ever managed early on in that tome! - one of the innovations of the late 1970s and 1980s he highlights is the use of satellite linkups to local TV stations in order to bypass unfriendly national news outlets.
But, of course, it's only one club in the bag: stenography at the Post and NYT, amongst others, has allowed Bush a pretty unfiltered megaphone a lot of the time with the prestige national media, too.
There's some acknowledgement of the complicity of the media in kneeling at the feet of USG spokesmen to gulp down whatever nourishment can be found at that altitude: Cox Newspapers Washington Bureau Chief Andy Alexander says
One of the reasons [for USG's success in controlling information] is that we have allowed ourselves in this town to get to a point where the national security adviser can have a background briefing with 50 reporters and not have herself revealed."
Alberto Gonzales-approved torture sessions secured media compliance, of course.
Andrea Mitchell of NBC
argues that leaks, particularly of dissenting views, can be helpful to good government. "There are policies that need to be exposed," she says. "There are times when the administration ought to know that there are things happening in this administration that are not good policy."
Despite appearances to the contrary, NBC have not been hiring from grade school: Mitchell
has covered national politics and the federal government since 1976.
None of the journos consulted see any reason cogent outside fairyland  for the current policy to change - under this or any subsequent administration. Even Mike McCurry agrees.
Robertson calls reasons for more USG openness from guys she quotes
noble...but awfully wispy and idealistic.
If an Executive Branch recantation is out of the question, what about some actual journalism? There are plenty of sources in DC - query how much they know, how journos can evaluate how much they know, and can untangle fact from spin.
Robertson doesn't - so far as I can see - highlight the need for the expertise of subject-specialist journalists, rather than one-size-fits-all political hacks. Integrating specialist expertise into A1 pieces is not, I suspect, easy; the juice in political stories comes from the pack of gossip-hounds who fixate on process, horse-race, inside baseball and the like.
On a story like social security 'reform', the detail is crucial - but also fiendishly complicated (I'd imagine!). Specialist and political journos are, I'd speculate, often temperamentally like chalk and cheese - Kerry's butler, Whiz or Swiss cheese on cheesesteaks, windsurfing: these bite-sized frivolities are what makes the world of political journalism go round: actuarial reports, not so much.
Unauthorised leaking can lead to orange suits: Robertson mentions the case of Jonathan Randel, a DEA analyst who got a year at Club Fed for spilling unclassified information .
And, for all that they're notoriously a bunch of liberals, it's Solidarity For Never amongst the journos:
If a reporter is thrown off the vice president's plane, [McCurry] asks, why doesn't the entire press corps say, fine, then none of us travels with you. "You don't ever see any kind of collective action like that."
(And then Robertson undercuts with a nice Deborah Orin story against McCurry.)
Rather than hang together, the hacks prefer to hang separately: divide and rule is easier for the White House than the Viceroys of India who long blunted the edge of native revolt by ensuring Hindu and Moslem pols argued as much with each other as with their British masters.
Ironically, in an age where media consolidation is the watch-cry of many, it's the beggar-my-neighbour, fissiparous tendencies of the press corp which condemn it to be picked off one by one by the USG media machine.
Robertson does not consider the business angle: as discussed her several times before, in a rag like the NYT, no editor or executive will lose his job by continuing with good old stenography. There may be a business model that works for actual journalism - digging out the facts, rather than regurgitating press releases and briefings - but I'm not aware it's been put into effect recently. If a Pulitzer Prize-winning series pulled in as much as much contribution to net profit for a paper as The Passion of the Christ, for instance, it might be worth the risk.
But ask the execs at the Toledo Blade - under the seal of the confessional, perhaps? - to quantify the contribution to net profit of their marquee Tiger Force series and I doubt whether you'd find a number that was both reliable and huge .
News freedom advocates take the Karen Ryan route
Just skimming the latest in a long line (going back, at the very least, to Ken Auletta's New Yorker piece) of descripitions of, or polemics against, the Bush Administration's treatment of the media - this time, it's Lori Robertson in the AJR.
I'll return to the substance, perhaps - though there's nothing startlingly new so far. But the following leapt from the page (emphasis mine):
ASNE, the Radio-Television News Directors Association and a number of other journalism organizations are launching a nationwide "Sunshine Week," set for March 13. The Sunshine Week Web site (www.sunshineweek.org) will provide op-eds for use by the media, story ideas, video news packages and information for libraries, which will sponsor local FOI programs.
Media! Complain about USG spoonfeeding of prepackaged pablum - and use our prepackaged pablum to do it with!
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
The Post fake Iraqi torture victim
Prior to Daddy Bush's war, we had the Oscar-worthy performance of Nayirah al-Sabah as the Kuwaiti Incubator Queen - a production helmed by Hill & Knowlton, of course (February 17 2003).
That time, America's journalists needed no Armstrong Williams pay-off to lap the story right up.
Now, we have Jumana Michael Hanna, who appears to have done quite a number on the Washington Post. (Whether Hill & Knowlton were involved this time is not apparent.)
Hanna served up a fantasy story about Iraqi torture to Post man Peter Finn, and he bought it. And Post editors bought it. And slapped Finn's piece on the front page of the July 21 2003 edition.
As ombud Michael Getler tells it,
had been based in Germany and was in Iraq to help cover the post-invasion period when he wrote the initial article.
The scam was discovered by Sara Solovitch (piece in January Esquire) who was commissioned to write a book about Hanna's story.
Solovitch employed no gimmick to get at the truth of the matter, but rather engaged in the (apparently unfashionable) practice of methodically seeking corroboration in a sceptical frame of mind.
It seems she's a sort of anti-Mapes.
(To date, her online footprint is small and mostly Hanna-related. Her own site has samples of her work - of which I'd like to see more, if the Hanna piece is anything to judge by.)
Finn's post-Solovitch clean-up piece last week seems directed towards self-exculpation on the grounds that
Hanna's angle? I like to be in America, apparently.
For an editor, a Hanna-type tale is a percentage play: probably, the informant is broadly telling the truth, or, at least, there's no proof that he's not. And, if the story does prove to be a dud, it's a one-day wonder amongst the aficianados at the worst. Who's going to sue? There's no Jayson Blair-style black hat - everyone's sincere.
Armstrong Williams and the perverseness of money
Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot: the deadliest dictators of the 20th century were none of them motivated in the bloodiest parts of their careers by pecuniary gain.
Neither George Bush nor Tony Blair managed Iraqi WMD intelligence in the expectation of a personal pay-day.
Does that in any way reduce their culpability? Of course not.
So why should it make a difference that Williams should have massaged the truth for cash rather than because God told him to do so?
Conflict of interest is a concept only applicable in circumstances where a person is put in position of trust.
A journalist is not in a position of trust. To imply as much is to encourage a delusion grievously damaging for the polity as a whole. On the contrary, he is to be put to the proof on every important point.
Any suggestion to the contrary would be all the more amazing coming shortly after the details of the 60 Minutes Killian memo fiasco were revealed: the fanaticism of Mary Mapes was liberally catalogued, as well as the complaisance of an editorial team in the face of a story which was too good to check.
Whether or not Mapes was acting on partisan motives, there was no evidence that financial gain played any part in her actions.
As to USG disinformation, that will flow uninterrupted courtesy of the stenography of journalists who need nary a bone to impersonate Nipper.
Judith Miller is able to preen herself that she never took a dime for passing off Ahmed Chalabi's fairy tales as intelligence scoops. Is she higher or lower on the scale of media infamy than Williams? Should sane men be giving house-room to an argument by which she is morally less culpable than he?
And let us by all means not lose sight of the point of overriding importance: editors and managers decide what 'news' gets published. No Judith Miller WMD scoop without Howell Raines, no ongoing NYT stenography without Bill Keller. Credit where credit's due.
Did the editors and management of the papers and broadcast outlets through which Armstrong Williams opined ever ask him whether he'd been paid to play?
Never ask a question you don't want to hear the answer to...
A little truth-in-gerrymandering
A note to self for when time permits.
The fruits of the liberal noise machine (such as it is) is what I perceive (nothing quantitatve) to be the general impression is that the Texas redistricting masterminded by Tom DeLay has become the CW acknowledged nadir of its kind.
Angles one might pursue are, firstly, that Texas redistricting was always gerrymandered to buggery. Only, because it was Dems doing the gerrymandering, I suspect DEWDROP complaints were fewer. According to a 2003 Houston Chronicle piece,
Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said DeLay's push for a Republican redistricting plan is no different from when Democratic delegation leader U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Arlington, orchestrated a 1991 redistricting that the National Journal called the worst gerrymander in U.S. history.
Call it, the biter bit. (That, at least, is my impression of the 1991 shenanigans from the briefest of looks.)
And California. Just take a look at the maps of some of those Congressional districts - the 10th, 11th and 27th, for instance, have tell-tale gouges where inconvenient demos reside, one presumes; stretch models like the 15th and - the Kim Jong Il special - the 23th, Lucky Lois Capps' very own job-for-life Pacific blue sliver of the Central Coast .
Unlike in Texas, this cosy little arrangement was impeccably bipartisan: incumbent heaven on both sides of the aisle, state and Federal. In November, not one seat changed parties.
And Governor Schwarzenegger wants to re-redistrict to put an end to this cosy piece of graft .
Next, they'll be putting Christmas to a vote at the turkey farms...
Monday, January 24, 2005
Franken plumbs the well of ignorance on AAR
Usually, it's Janeane Garofalo and her sidekick: recently, for instance, she's let slip that she'd thought William Jennings Bryan had given the Cross of Gold speech at the Scopes monkey trial (in 1925).
Now, I'm listening for an odd minute to Al Franken, talking about the recently deceased Johnny Carson, who's not only telling the Buddy Hackett joke (don't ask!) for the twentieth time in my hearing (I'm far from a Franken completist!) but also the preamble about his mother leaving the room when Hackett came on the TV (ditto).
And he tells a story about Carson (again with the asking!) that involves Richard Nixon's campaign song for his run for the US Senate. Which Franken attributed to 1948.
Surely the Number One enemy of the Minnesota pinko, a million effigies with pins in, and he doesn't know the year that Beelzebub first ran for the Senate? Jesus!
It was 1950, of course. And there was no US Senate seat contested in the Golden State in 1948 - he who became the Senior Senator in 1951 was William Knowland, who had been appointed in August 1945 to fill Hiram Johnson's seat when the old bastard finally pegged it.
(Nixon fought Helen Gahagan Douglas for an open seat in 1950, vacated by one Sheridan Downey - scarcely a household name in his own household, I'm thinking.)
Of course, most things, you should check. (I couldn't have sworn, for example, that Douglas wasn't the incumbent - so I checked .)
But there are key historical markers that you shouldn't need to - US presidents of the 20th century, say. Not if you're opining on politics on the public airwaves, that is.
(Career paths to check every time: Wayne Morse and Strom Thurmond.)
Sunday, January 23, 2005
Colombian drug czar keeps her head down online
I'm sure we're in Artefact County , so just a brief note.
A documentary has just been on UK TV featuring a woman they called Maria Cristina Chirolla, head of an anti-narcotics unit in the Colombian government .
My curiosity piqued, I google the woman: she exists, but her online footprint seems remarkably slight for the prominent role she has.
Spelt as above, the name returns 43 of 145 mainly English items. Spelt correctly (María Cristina Chirolla), it's a mere 12 of 14 items.
Checking the surname, one gets confirmation in official sources: as, from the Presidencia site, where her title is given as la coordinadora de la Unidad de Lavado de Activos de la Fiscalía General de la Nación; and she is mentioned in a judicial opinion (defending the constitutionality of some law or other, on behalf of the government, I assume) where her full name is given as María Cristina Chirolla Lozada; and this from the Colombian Embassy in Vienna gives her title as Jefe de la Unidad Contra el Lavado de Activos y de Extinción de Dominio de la Fiscalía General de la Nación y Fiscal Delegada ante la Corte Suprema de Justicia.
And a lousy twelve items for all that?!
Cross-checking, the El Tiempo search page produces nada on chirolla. Google pulls up three Tiempo pieces. Tiempo is like the New York Times of Colombia; narcotics is Colombia's #1 news machine; she's high up the antinarcotics organisation chart (and correspondingly high up on the alphabet soup's  hit-lists).
Granted, she's not doing stadium gigs and appearing on Regis and Kathy shows every day.
But twelve items?
So just when was Britain Great?
The First Plawg Rule of the Internet is It's serendipity, not search.
You could look for a hundred years on Google and not find the Open, sesame to unlock this little baby (PDF): Relative British and American Income Levels during the First Industrial Revolution by Marianne Ward and John Devereux.
There's a Queen Victoria's dead quality to my elation at this discovery: I'm sure that, for anyone in the biz, it's old hat. But, for civilians to snag this stuff free and online - therein lies the specialness.
Cliff Notes: the popular story arc of the US sorpasso of the UK - the effect of better technology and industrial methods, especially in the iron and steel industry, happening around 1890 - is completely wrong: Britain was always behind, the only question being, By how much?
In 1831 (p7), UK per capita income was 68% of that in the US ; it rose as high as 90% in 1869 (105% in GB) - but only because the Americans had treated themselves to a civil war in the interim, and written off $4 billion or so by emancipating the slaves : a chart on p17 shows that that was the peak; the UK number slid back to plateau at around 85% from 1887 to 1907, a gentle slide to 1929, followed by an uptick  in the 1930s; World War 2 took the relative down to 46% , from which it crawled up to around 67% in 1990.
Workshop of the world? Whether it's current affairs or ancient history, the watchword is,
It ain't necessarily so.
Some historical stats on the Irish economy in Ireland: Economics and the Reinventing of a Nation by William Crotty. Some UK economy stats and charts (PDF).
Stupid White Men in Afghanistan
Mindful of the perils of facile (or, in fact, all) historical analogies, I've been enjoying Archibald Forbes' tale of the that early Victorian folly of empire, the invasion of Afghanistan and its sorry outcome, The Afghan Wars 1839-42 and 1878-80 .
The tone is sardonic - but without the heavy hand of, say, an Al Franken sub-Catskills cross-talk routine .
A sample: William Hay Macnaghten, and East India Company civil servant, had, for the purpose of the ill-fated expedition to put the erstwhile ruler of Afghanistan back on the throne, been appointed Envoy and Minister on the part of the Government of India at the Court of Shah Soojah-ool-Moolk (also spelt Shuja) - the top-ranking civilian on the trip.
Just before the whole thing turns sour, Macnaghten wrote a letter:
From Mookoor to the Khyber Pass, all is content and tranquillity; and wherever we Europeans go, we are received with respect, attention and welcome. I think our prospects are most cheering; and with the materials we have there ought to be little or no difficulty in the management of the country. The people are perfect children, and they should be treated as such. If we put one naughty boy in the corner, the rest will be terrified.
At the same time, General Nott, in charge at Kandahar, was reporting:
The conduct of the thousand and one politicals has ruined our cause, and bared the throat of every European in this country to the sword and knife of the revengeful Afghan and bloody Belooch; and unless several regiments be quickly sent, not a man will be left to describe the fate of his comrades. Nothing will ever make the Afghans submit to the hated Shah Soojah, who is most certainly as great a scoundrel as ever lived.'
The temptation to read across to Bush's Iraq invasion  should, of course, be vigorously resisted. The poor strategy, the inadequate planning, the initial (relatively) easy victory; the installing of a puppet government without legitimacy; the expectation of welcoming throngs; the absence of same... There's plenty to resist.
Forbes disagrees with Nott's reason for native disaffection in striking terms:
Condoning the acts of the evil-doers? Was the guy some sort of Commie?
On the contrary: Forbes was a noted war correspondent (1838-1900), on whom (relative to expectations) a cornucopia of online info is available.
To zoom out on Afghan history, another MBP etext  goes back to ancient times (though concentrating on the last 200 years): the 1950 Afghanistan by WT Fraser-Tytler (Sir William, I suspect), an old Afghan hand, to judge by his preface. The typeface and feel is largely Chatham House (Royal Institution of International Affairs - RIIA), though- no doubt, due to the character and experience of the author - not as stodgy as their usual fare of the period .
I've also stumbled on a page of links to maps of Central Asia (very widely defined). It's untouched since June 2003 but - be thankful for the things they got...
A mouth-watering page of links to historical maps of India, updated in November 2004.
(And the USMA historical map collection I'd not come across before.)
The Fraser-Tytler throws up a bizarre historical episode: the embassy of Henry III of Castile to Timur (aka Tamburlaine, and a thousand others) in the person of Ruy Gonzalez de Clavijo .
Clavijo set out east in 1402 - around the time that Henry IV was settling in as usurper-king of England; the reasons for the Castile embassy, I have not exerted myself to uncover.
On the reason for the Clavijo embassy, I'm tempted to infer the Cliff Notes version from here: Castile is a a medium European power, with trading interests to match; the Ottoman Turks lie athwart land routes for trade to the east, and are a menace to Mediterranean shipping; at the Battle of Angora (aka Ankara) on July 20 1402, Tamburlaine beat the Ottoman forces and captured Sultan Beyazid I, who died in the following year, of one thing or another.
The enemy of my enemy seems to be at play. (The rankest connect-the-dots but I can find nothing better online in Spanish or English. When Google's got Stanford's library online...)
And there's a short article (PDF) in French on Tamberlaine or Timour Leng (plenty of variant spellings in French, too!).
Friday, January 21, 2005
Apart from the Boston Metro, freesheets can make business sense
In theory, at least, according to a Business Week piece.
Unless I missed it, there's nothing in there about a giveaway (freesheet is the British jargon term - there doesn't seem to be a US one - that I can glean from the BW piece, at least) having actually turned in a decent return on investment (Rule #1: if a piece talks only about the revenues of a business, five will get you ten, there are no profits.)
The New York Times has shown everyone how not to do it, without condemning the freesheet as an economically viable medium.
Metro/NYT Co: the porn angle
Poor old Pat Purcell gets no change out of West 43rd Street with his convoluted porn connection story (January 17 - with links to earlier pieces):
Times Co. spokeswoman Catherine Mathis denied the company's plan to buy a 49 percent stake in Metro International's Boston daily would put the Gray Lady in bed with Modern Times Group - the porno-pushing parent of Metro's empire.
Worthy of Rupert Murdoch's Sun, that
porno-pushing parent- the sophomoric alliteration (and in the body of the text, too, rather than the hed), and untrue to boot, as the next graf shows:
Modern Times controls 28 percent of Metro International, which is the parent company of Metro Boston.
Meanwhile, Dan Kennedy is crowing about the role of online outlets in getting the original nigger-joke story into Big Media, and patting source John Wilpers on the back as well.
Of Rory O'Connor, who broke the story, he says
His timing was exquisite.
The word I'd use would be fishy.
This story has apparently been knocking around Boston for at least a year: a coincidence that it should appear just after the announcement of the Boston Metro deal? Of course, if O'Connor could show that an essential piece of corrobatory evidence had only just come into his hands, that would help his case. I don't see it, though.
(That's miles from crying conspiracy, be it noted: perhaps, true to their surnames, Purcell and O'Connor agreed the timing over pints of the black stuff at a Knights of Columbus shindig. But there's no evidence of it. Calling Grassy Knoll-ers and tabloid journalists... )
O'Connor has another piece on the Metro deal, suggesting that, race aside, the management of Metro International should give the NYT Co pause.
It reeks of corporate telenovela - or perhaps a Harvard Business School case-study of a joint venture disaster. And, for the NYT, it's penny-ante, minority stake, no commercial integration - O'Connor quotes one
Edward Atorino, a Wall Street analyst with Fulcrum Global Partnersas saying
This thing was supposed to be a no-brainer...
The lack of brain affects he who ever thought such a stupid thing, surely?
STILL MORE (January 25)
A WSJ piece suggests a commercial reason for the NYT Co to make the investment:
Pat Purcell, publisher of the Boston Herald, alleged in an interview that if the deal is approved, the Globe could coerce "or incentivize" advertisers to run ads in both the Globe and Metro. Mr. Purcell said Metro, on its own, hadn't been able to crack certain ad segments, such as car dealers, one of the Herald's strengths. That could change, he said, with the Globe's market clout.
Top of the head, the troubles with that idea are that, first, advertisers in Boston area newspapers have a range of rags to give their business to, which reduces any Globe leverage; and, secondly, the NYT Co book only 49% of any profits of Metro advertising, but takes 100% of loss of profit at the Globe.
Bit of blarney from Purcell, perhaps?
MORE (January 27)
Some background filled in by Chris Rowland in a Globe piece.
On the breaking of the story, he says
Although [Rory] O'Connor initially chose not to publish the story last spring, citing concerns about relying on just one on-the-record source [ie John Wilpers], he changed his mind after Times Co. said it would partner with Metro Boston.
The reasoning is pure Mary Mapes: the more topical the story, the laxer the editing!
Thursday, January 20, 2005
The tsunami untouchable story
It would be against all the Plawg rules to delve into this - faraway place, don't know the language, breaking news, all that stuff - but I wish someone would.
Working from the Poor Man's Lexis, the first big story was from Reuters on January 3 about untouchables on the coast of Tamil Nadu collecting the bodies of victims that their higher caste brethren would not touch. (Not really a story - now, if the Brahmins had rolled up their sleeves...)
Then, we get an op-ed from a guy called Jeremy Reynalds which passes on the views of the Dalit Freedom Network  that
some Indian officials have been refusing Dalits relief help while their families are dying of starvation
Not an allegation made by the Reuters piece.
Then we get some more along the same lines - a Daily Telegraph piece with no attribution at all (not even to Agencies), for instance, with lede
India's untouchables, reeling from the tsunami disaster, are being forced out of relief camps by higher caste survivors and being denied aid supplies.
Then, on January 14, Human Rights Watch issued a press release calling on the Indian government to counter discrimination against untouchables in aid distribution.
And yesterday, the Washington Post had a piece from their Delhi correspondent Rama Lakshmi under hed Tsunami Opens Fault Lines in Old Caste System with some on-the-spot reporting from Nagapattinam District in Tamil Nadu .
There is also a January 10 piece from the Navhind Times (in Goa, the other side of the country from Tamil Nadu) with further details of discrimination, and an attack on the Tamil Nadu government for failing to ensure equitable distribution of aid.
The caste system in India is highly politicised - or rather, the political system is caste-icised. And, for all their being at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, untouchable parties can have serious political clout in some states .
There's a clear need for some investment in reporting here: the interest in the story, now the initial, picture-driven newsgasm is over, is in understanding the complexities of a society utterly unfamiliar to westerners.
Clearly, the Post have their man on the spot - giving her only three bylines in the last fortnight is somewhat disappointing, though.
Probably, what is needed is something like a New York Times Magazine cover story - in style and length. (We are now entering Druther County...)
Oddly, I was tipped off about the Post story listening to Janeane Garofalo ranting on radio (some GOP Congressmen claiming that discrimination against the untouchables was a proof of the moral superiority of Christianity, or some such nonsense - if it's happened, the story doesn't have it ).
That show is an incredible waste of time for the eons of airtime spent on empty rants, where there is so much of interest to the left to talk about - but only with the investment of some time and curbing of presenter egos .
You will see references to Scheduled Castes - thus identified by the Indian constitution as qualifying for varieties of affirmative action.
As a measure of the complexity of the system, one may consider 'the Schedule' - the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 (as amended) - a thousand and more names, I'd estimate.
A twist to the Jane Akre/Steve Wilson story
Amazingly, for a story in which Fox and Monsanto are cast as the black hats, there's seemed to be remarkably little hullaballo about this sorry tale (which I outlined on February 14 2004).
Now, it turns out that it's licence renewal time for the Fox station, WTVT-TV Tampa, at which Akre and Wilson worked. And the pair have filed a petition with the FCC
to deny renewal of the station's license for "intentionally airing false and distorted news reports'' in 1997.
Sounds like a lost cause, unless they can find powerful friends with axes to grind to come in behind them. Even then, my understanding is that licence renewal is virtually a formality failing serious misfeasance at the station.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Trust in media - worrying European numbers
A Harris poll on trust in institutions shows alarming gullibility levels this side of the pond.
For instance, to a question Do you tend to trust, or tend not to trust various media, the response in the US is heartening: for press, radio and TV, the numbers are 22-62, 43-33 and 22-58.
Whereas, in the EU, the numbers are 47-46, 62-29 and 54-39 .
Any substantive reasons why the EU's media should deserve so much more trust than the US's? There is no right-wing talk radio or Fox News; but, for example, there is Berlusconi in Italy , and a history of government influence over French TV (though not so much in recent years, I think).
(The European written press tends to be openly ideological, while its broadcasting is conformist through being either owned or influenced by the state. Conformist is so very far from objective in the American sense - which is, of course, warped in its own way.)
New York Times: niggardly with niggardly
I'm listening to a less-annoying-than-usual Al Franken interview - with Peter Beinart - which alludes to a Times piece calling USG stingy with development aid to Third World countries.
The brain whirs: for stingy, I'm thinking niggardly - on which Washington mayor Anthony Williams had such fun a few years ago.
So, I go to the Times search page: since 1996, the paper has used the word a mere 35 times.
And the last time it was used was in March 2002 - the piece is nowhere online, that I can see.
The usage numbers:
2002 - 1
2001 - 2
2000 - 5
1999 - 16
1998 - 5
1997 - 3
1996 - 2
The numbers are skewed by the 1999 controversy over Williams' aide David Howard's use of the word.
Is the fact that 2003 is the first of recent years in which niggardly has not appeared in the Times an indication of creeping censorship? Or had censorship set in well and truly by 1996 to produce so - niggardly - a number as two uses in one year?
What about the Post? The archives are divided into 1987 to date and 1877-86: the stats for recent years are these:
2003 - 1
2002 - 1
2001 - 1
2000 - 6
1999 - 38
1998 - 3
1997 - 2
1996 - 3
1995 - 2
1994 - 4
1993 - 3
1992 - 4
1991 - 3
1990 - 3
1989 - 13
1988 - 3
1987 - 9
1986 - 9
1985 - 4
1984 - 8
1983 - 8
1982 - 10
1981 - 10
My guess is that there is nothing statistically significant there.
What about a decade before the PC nonsense started: say, the 1930s:
1930 - 9
1931 - 13
1932 - 12
1933 - 7
1934 - 12
1935 - 18
1936 - 11
1937 - 6
1938 - 15
1939 - 17
1940 - 9
A statistically significant difference between the 1930s and the last decade? Factor in the much greater size of today's papers: a distinct possibility.
With some trepidation, I offer some statistical analysis: using the t test - an online calculator does the work! - to compare the number for use of niggardly by the Post in the 1930s with the 11 most recent years (1993-2003), one finds that the difference between the samples is significant only at the 90% level - ie, not significant at all.
Using the Wilcoxon Two Sample test, however, the difference is staggeringly significant - at the 99.9% level (where 95% is generally thought sufficient).
My guess is that the large count for 1999 skews the distribution of the data in the later sample - and the t test only works with normally distributed (bell curve) data. Whereas the Wilcoxon test is, as they say, nonparametric - works regardless of distribution.
Plus, in this case, visual inspection and common sense concludes a huge difference between the samples.
End of an era in Italy
Taking pot luck with the Google News Italy page, the only topic of remote interest was the case of an unlucky guy called Ivan from Trieste found guilty of sexual assault for giving a girl using a payphone in the street at the time a friendly pat on the rear. They were not acquainted, it seems, and the girl took umbrage.
A previous ruling of the Corte di Cassazione (the top Italian court)
ammetteva la 'palpatina' a patto che si trattasse di qualche «isolata e repentina pacca» e che mancasse l' «intento propriamente libidinoso».
Ivan was not so lucky: the court took his case as the opportunity for a volte-face:
il gesto è da ritenersi 'atto sessuale' seppure 'di breve durata' e nonostante non abbia «determinato la soddisfazione erotica del soggetto attivo».
In fact, Ivan had been acquitted at trial, the prosecution had appealed, and the Corte d'Appelo in Trieste had found him guilty, and sentenced him to 14 months in jail, suspended.
What the the hacks call a watershed, I suspect: like when what seemed like the entire British people went ga-ga over the death of Princess Diana, and the stiff upper lip seemed consigned to the dustbin of history.
Washington Post Company stock price lurch - what's the story?
A novice question, no doubt: according to the six month chart, the stock had risen steadily from around $850 to $950 from the beginning of August to the beginning of October 2004 on volumes generally steady at or below 20,000 a day; then a slide back toward the $850 mark over the first 25 days or so of October, followed by a recovery to a plateau of around $950 from mid November to mid December; a spike, on seasonally thin volumes, to $1,000 over the Christmas-New Year period, followed by a fall to $900 over the first few days of January.
But the volume of January trading has been markedly higher - a spike of 60,000 shares on one day - that's around $50m worth on a market capitalisation of $8.7bn. The one year chart does not suggest that high volumes are a seasonal feature of the stock at this time of year. (The 60,000 day happened toward the bottom of the recent fall - were these shares that had previously been shorted, so as to have affected the price before they were booked as sold? I did say novice...)
The only sign of recent corporate activity is the completion of the purchase of Slate for an undisclosed price.
The recent movement is in striking contrast to the Dow - which enjoyed a much more modest fall over the period.
I see that, at the Motley Fool last April, they were recommending the Post Co as a stock to watch, but overpriced. It had just enjoyed a $60-$70 bounce on higher than usual volumes to around $930.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Bush black vote bonanza - something doesn't add up
Odd thing: an LA Times piece praised by the good folks at Campaign Desk  - Susan Stranahan, again - seems to have gone seriously wayward in its numbers .
The general thesis is that Bush's faith-based farrago and pandering to 'social conservatives' won an edge among a section of black voters that was critical to his victory in November.
In the crucial state of Ohio, where the faith-based program was promoted last fall at rallies and ministerial meetings, a rise in black support for Bush created the cushion he needed to win the presidential race without a legal challenge in that state.
Walk through the numbers with me:
Bush won Ohio by 2,859,764 to 2,741,165 or 118,599 votes. For the Kerry campaign to get interested in a challenge, the gap would have had to be no more than, say 20,000 - the Bush-Gore gap in Florida was much tighter, of course.
I have no numbers for the black vote in Ohio, but, assuming they voted as heavily as the average, one can get a handle on what swing would have been needed for the black vote to have constituted Bush's cushion - say, 100,000 votes.
The population of Ohio is around 11.5m - my extrapolation; at the 2000 census, 74.6% were adults, 8.58m.
Of the total, 11.5% were black; assuming no differential between the black percentage of the total and of the adult population, one gets a black total of 990,000 (I'm rounding, obviously).
In the 2004 election, 5.772m votes were cast, or, as a proportion of the estimated adult population, 66.3%; applying that percentage to the estimate of the adult black population gives 660,000.
That means, one percentage point of the 2004 Ohio black vote was 6,600 votes.
According to the Times piece, Bush got 11% of the black vote nationwide, an increase of two points over 2000. That increase, it says, was larger in swing states.
Clearly, in Ohio, the increase would need to have been absurdly large to have made up Bush's cushion:
If Bush got 9% of the Ohio black vote in 2000  - that would be 60,000 votes. The Times hypothesis is that the increase in the black vote supplies his cushion of 100,000 or so - I think if Ohio blacks had almost tripled their Bush vote, we'd have heard about it, given national rise was a paltry two points!
No doubt it's my sums, and not those of the left coast's top paper, that are out by miles.
Bush scandals enumerated
A handy reference from Salon.
Creationism: the crackers have won - and Ted Kennedy helped (kinda)
Way back, I mentioned that creationists were on the offensive in Cobb County, GA.
Just a few days ago, a Federal District Court decision (PDF) by Judge Clarence Cooper in Selman v Cobb County School Board put the kibosh on that lark - for the moment - and before it was too late.
But, just twenty-odd miles from Gettysburg, in Dover, PA, judicial intervention, if any (a case is pending), will come too late - the NYT piece under hed An Alternative to Evolution Splits a Pennsylvania Town.
That's not the half of it: the school board have, it seems, fashioned their new policy after an amendment to the No Child Left Behind Act sponsored in the Senate by home stater Rick Santorum:
Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.
The amendment eventually failed (I'm not disposed to crunch THOMAS right now), but on the way survived a vote in the Senate by 91-8.
And, it seems, Ted Kennedy was a strong supporter - though he's keeping his head down on the issue right now, apparently.
The moral: crackers come in all shapes and sizes...
CBS News starved of funding?
A Broadcasting & Cable piece (near the bottom) has some stats comparing the output of CBS News with its competitors at ABC and NBC.
The piece suggests there is some evidence of a shortage
CBS also relied more on taped packages, local domestic features and self-promotion.but I wonder whether the inter-network differences are statistically significant: for example, under the heading Reports With Foreign Dateline in the nightly news, CBS scored 877 minutes in 2004, against ABC's 698 and NBC's 789.
(The usual cost-cutter with foreign news is to edit agency footage with an anonymous voice-over from AN Other in New York. CBS wouldn't be adding fake datelines, would they?)
Iran: is the H-bomb a dud?
Now, I don't know from nuclear proliferation, still less, from ongoing US covert operations. So the Seymour Hersh v DOD tourney is very much a he said, she said for your humble blogger.
In the blue corner, Hersh's New Yorker piece The Coming Wars; in the red corner, Larry DiRita's statement in rebuttal.
Evaluating on the papers alone, then: Hersh's sourcing is, as usual, mostly anonymous. In the field of national security, more understandable than in others: USG spokesmen expect anonymity, dissident officials need it.
But, as early as graf 2, we get (emphasis mine)
According to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message.
Who is this guy? If he's former, why does he need anonymity? And which branch of intelligence? And when did he leave the service (whichever service that might be) - how current is his inside information?
The name that sprang to mind reading that was ex-CIA man Vincent Cannistraro - who's turned up here before. But - obviously - I know him only from on-the-record appearances: perhaps, for some stuff, he goes anonymous.
In fact, Cannistraro is namechecked later in the piece:
Two former C.I.A. clandestine officers, Vince Cannistraro and Philip Giraldi, who publish Intelligence Brief, a newsletter for their business clients- (and which might they be? can you say conflict of interest?)
So journalistic fair play would rule him out as the former high-level intelligence official. (The Marquess of Queensbury is long dead, however.) Giraldi is quoted by Hersh on the record - it looks like he gave Hersh an interview.
The former high-level intelligence officer is quoted a dozen or more times in the piece (depending on how you count) - lots more than any other identified source, at least.
Hersh's other sources (in the words with which he first describes them, and cast in order of appearance) are:
The retired senior C.I.A. official and the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon appear several times, the rest mostly just the once.
Mr. Hersh’s source(s) feed him with rumor, innuendo, and assertions about meetings that never happened, programs that do not exist, and statements by officials that were never made.
source(s)by the way - almost sounds like this time, it's personal. Of course, when the blind quotes are flowing from Pentagon background briefings - how many (dozen) were there yesterday alone, I wonder? - the
source(s)are fair and truthful in every respect - naturally.
DiRita cites four examples of Hersh's fabulation:
The post-election meeting he describes between the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of Staff did not happen.
Hersh's source for this is our friend the former high-level intelligence officer; Hersh gives us no reason to suppose that the guy had first-hand knowledge of this meeting; there wouldn't exactly need to be a motorcade for the parties to get together; DiRita would hardly have mentioned it if he knew or suspected that corroboration was available.
Searching on the New York Times and Washington Post sites, it doesn't seem that either paper has a piece by a staff correspondent addressing Hersh's piece or DiRita's response . But, if there was such a meeting, those papers' national security correspondents would have heard about it from their sources, surely?
Would those correspondents be tempted to keep shtum, though? Through professional jealousy (of Hersh?), or under DOD or White House pressure, that is.
[The alternative reading is a non-denial denial - such that
The post-election meeting he describesis jumping on immaterial differences between Hersh's description and what actually happened to say Hersh's meeting never took place. I don't rule that alternative out. Oh no...]
The only civilians in the chain-of-command are the President and the Secretary of Defense, despite Mr. Hersh’s confident assertion that the chain of command now includes two Department policy officials. His assertion is outrageous, and constitutionally specious.
That's a reference to Hersh's
Rumsfeld and two of his key deputies, Stephen Cambone, the Under-secretary of Defense for Intelligence, and Army Lieutenant General William G. (Jerry) Boykin, will be part of the chain of command for the new commando operations.- Boykin is Cambone's deputy still, I assume.
Again, I'm thinking the devil is in the expression chain of command - which no doubt varies in meaning according to context. Can it be that no instruction to a serving member of US forces is given except personally by Bush or Rumsfeld? What are these unders and deputies for, then? Powers are made to be delegated.
Another non-denial denial?
Arrangements Mr. Hersh alleges between Under Secretary Douglas Feith and Israel, government or non-government, do not exist. Here, Mr. Hersh is building on links created by the soft bigotry of some conspiracy theorists. This reflects poorly on Mr. Hersh and the New Yorker.
Soft bigotry - he's been working for Rumsfeld for too long!
the Defense Department civilians, under the leadership of Douglas Feith, have been working with Israeli planners and consultants to develop and refine potential nuclear, chemical-weapons, and missile targets inside Iran.
Again, it could be a mere quibble from DiRita. Civilians such as your humble blogger are entirely dependent on steers from grown-ups the grinding of whose axes is kept down to a dull roar. (Dana Priest has a webchat tomorrow, for instance.)
Mr. Hersh cannot even keep track of his own wanderings. At one point in his article, he makes the outlandish assertion that the military operations he describes are so secret that the operations are being kept secret even from U.S. military Combatant Commanders. Mr. Hersh later states, though, that the locus of this super-secret activity is at the U.S. Central Command headquarters, evidently without the knowledge of the commander if Mr. Hersh is to be believed.
I suspect that that sort of thing happens - need to know and so forth. But, again, even the pseudo-corroboration of the not-viscerally-engagé expert is sorely needed.
This is not, of course, the first time that Hersh's credibility has come under question. When his Abu Ghraib series started appearing in the New Yorker, I took a look at his rap-sheet (May 15) - it's not exactly an unblemished record.
Then, apparently as a teaser for his book Chain of Command, we had the tale of video footage (in a speech to the ACLU - July 15 and July 19) of boys being sodomized by Iraqi guards at Abu Ghraib.
The existence of that footage has, so far as I can, never been corroborated; still less has any of it entered the public domain.
So, was the video just a figment of Hersh's marketing-driven imagination?
On Iran, the cui bono arguments go both ways: perhaps, it's part of USG softening up of public opinion for a party in Iran: Bush gave NBC's David Gregory a friendly poke in the ribs on military action:
I hope we can solve it diplomatically, but I will never take any option off the table.
On the other hand, why give it to Hersh, who has zero credibility amongst Bush supporters, but would stand to gain to the extent his story proved true?
(Is it a feint for the Iranians? Or a morale-booster for the Israelis? So many potential conspiracies...)
Dissidents hardly benefit from the disclosures, surely? They were ignored before, and will continue to be ignored.
That's enough guessing. Ed.
Lawrence Summers offends the ladies
Harvard President Summers has previous here - notably, a liaison with Harvard English prof Elisa New.
Now, he's given a talk ex tempore suggesting that females are genetically inferior as scientists:
As an example, Dr Summers told the conference about giving his daughter two trucks. She treated them like dolls, and named them mummy and daddy trucks, he said.
I think that's rather sweet; some wimmin in his audience did not.
Mary Mapes didn't even break Abu Ghraib - it says here
Part of the exculpatory CBS narrative of Rathergate - why editorial controls completely failed - is that Mary Mapes was not only a long-serving 60 Minutes producer, but was on a roll: her latest big coup had been breaking the Abu Ghraib scandal, and, the reasoning goes, that gave her a zillion credits in the Bank of Credibility on which editors could reasonably rely.
Complete bollocks, of course; but, it seems, the credit for Abu Ghraib belonged elsewhere. At any rate, if one can believe one Kristina Borjesson, who writes that
the real truth about Mapes breaking the Abu Ghraib story is that she didn't break it, her associate producer, Dana Robeson did.
Now, according to Mr Google, Borjesson's piece is the only Web item including the words "dana robeson" - and Yahoo People also draws a blank. (There's no indication whether DR is male or female, even!)
Another meaningless net artefact, then...
Monday, January 17, 2005
NPR well rid of Smiley, it seems
I've never sampled the radio stylings of Tavis Smiley; but, to judge from this report of his contract battles with NPR, I don't think I'd have lingered long:
What NPR is apparently upset about is not that I would not negotiate, but that I wouldn't acquiesce. I do not do my best work in chains and shackles. For black kids and brown kids yet unborn, I felt I had to say no. They were being disrespectful.
Sounds like that race card has had quite a bit of use...
Times-Metro saga - after race, it's sex!
[Earlier pieces January 15, January 15, January 11 and January 10.]
The Murdoch munchkin (or should that be, leprechaun) of Beantown, Pat Purcell, is excelling himself: on Saturday, his main rag, the Boston Herald, ran an exposé of a louche Metro connection under hed Metro owner hawks porn-Times partner cashes in on European TV skin flicks.
It seems that Metro International is part-owned by the Modern Times Group, which also has a TV channel that has broadcast porn to Scandinavia .
Was this all the Herald's own work, or did it get help? From parties not a million miles from West 43rd Street, perhaps, appalled at the hi-jacking of senior management attention by this penny-ante deal. Have they signed a legally binding agreement yet? (The press release talked about closing before the end of January.)
To judge from comments reported by the Herald from Richard Gilman, publisher of the Globe, the oppo may be coming from closer to the action. Gilman actually wrote in a memo to staff (no doubt in strict confidence!) that
Metro International still must prove itself
Sulzberger-approved or solo effort?
Dan Kennedy toys with the anti-trust numbers; defining the market is evidently tricky (do you include Pat Purcell's shoppers and weeklies, for instance?).
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